After taking Cannes, Annecy, and the Animation Is Film Festival by storm, Netflix’s French Oscar contender, “I Lost My Body,” lands a brief theatrical release November 15 before streaming on November 29. Jérémy Clapin’s existential, graphic mystery about a severed hand trying to reconnect with its body is by far the year’s boldest animated feature.
It’s a thrilling mixture of action and romance, animated by Xilam Animation in CG (using the open source Blender software but overlaid with a striking hand-drawn aesthetic). The story contains parallel narratives. In one, the hand desperately tries to survive the brutal streets of Paris (fending off pigeons and rats), relying on sense memory. In the other, a lethargic young pizza delivery guy, Naofel (Dev Patel) grieves over the accidental death of his parents and unexpectedly falls in love with a sweet, passionate librarian, Gabrielle (Alia Shawkat). The result is an original, provocative exploration of destiny and free will.
“On this film, I’m talking of little things– the hand–and I’m pushing this different scale of story so we can tell something bigger at the end,” said Clapin, who makes his feature debut after directing such acclaimed shorts as the somber “Skhizein.” “This is a kind of game, and very enjoyable for a director, because it justifies this melange of [action and romance]. But I had to put contrast between the hand in daily life and something more romantic with larger spaces. I’m not sure I’m going to find another project like this.”
It began with the hand, of course. Adapted from the novel, “Happy Hand,” by “Amélie” screenwriter Guillaume Laurant, Clapin initially had difficulty connecting personally with the story until he started drawing his own hand and studying it. “I had to put me in the film with my hand. It was liberating,” he said. Interestingly, because he’s French, Clapin referred to the hand as feminine, which is why he named her Rosalie. “She’s like a new [character] being born. She’s not the same anymore, she can move with the freedom of not having a body.” The hand is trying to reconnect “with something she misses.”
But Clapin needed a pair of contrasting connections to propel the story. He provided Rosalie with the vital sense of touch and Naofel with a love of sound recording. “She learns about the world through contact, through touching,” he said. “And I had to find something similar with Naofel. He looks at the world through sound. It’s a different connection. And in cinema there is a kind of synergy between the touch and the sound. Because when you want to show the touch of something, you have to put in a lot of noise to feel the touch.”
The director also contrasts Rosalie occupying the lower depths of Paris and Naofel ascending to great heights. Thematically, too, Naoufel’s mystical relationship with Gabrielle is different from Rosalie’s perilous journey of survival. Another difference: Rosalie relives black-and-white childhood memories, while Naoufel attempts to shape a lasting future with Gabrielle.
For Clapin, the very first encounter between Naoufel and Gabrielle was one of the most cinematic. He tries to deliver a pizza to her in her upstairs apartment but remains stuck in the lobby and they communicate through the intercom. “It’s like the two characters are together in the same space because of the sound of their voice. I like to bring more realistic situations to something mystical,” he said.
In the end, “I Lost My Body” “invites the audience to look inside themselves because this is both an internal point of view and an external point of view outside yourself,” said Clapin. “It’s a great conversation.”