Home Theatre: The hand that feels
A fortnightly column that focuses on notable content available on the streaming platforms around you, and this week it's I Lost My Body, streaming on Netflix
Two weeks ago, when I wrote about an animated film for the first time in this column, I did not expect to be back writing about another in the very next edition. However, the two films, despite being animated features, could not be more different. Klaus is a light, harmless film that will appeal to children… and the child in all of us. I Lost My Body, on the other hand, is decidedly aimed at adults. It comes with an 18+ rating for 'strong language, sex, and nudity'. However, that isn't the only reason it's meant for adults. It's more about the themes, the mood and treatment of the film.
Jérémy Clapin's French film — adapted from the book Happy Hand by Amélie screenwriter Guillaume Laurant — deals with heavy themes like loss and trauma, and in a novel fashion. I Lost My Body follows the adventures of a severed hand that escapes from a medical facility and travels across Paris in an attempt to reunite with its body. When I recommended this film to a couple of friends, one thought it sounded scary, while the other asked if it was like Addams Family. In truth, it's neither. I Lost My Body is a dream-like film that's hard to describe.
It's also quite emotional. Clapin gets us into the… head of the hand. The hand does not speak, doesn't have eyes to express, but has a body language. From the way it moves — and with intelligent use of music (the lovely score by Dan Levy adds so much to the film) — Clapin makes us feel the desperation and the longing of the hand. A few minutes into the film, there's a brief shot of the hand slumping down on a window sill after a narrow escape. That was when I knew I loved the film. An overhead shot of the hand scurrying past some trees which appear to be hands reaching out to the sky themselves only solidified this impression.
The film isn't just mood though. There are some thrilling action set-pieces as well. The hand also makes its way through Paris (the city, incidentally, looks nothing like the romantic Paris we are so used to). It fends off rats on a subway, an attack from a dog, gets tossed about in traffic, and more. And through it all, Clapin makes us root for this disembodied hand.
In parallel, we also see the story of the person the hand belongs to, Naoufel — an orphaned immigrant (refugee?) who has moved to France from Morocco — before he lost the hand. His story is told seemingly from the point of view of the hand. It’s almost as if the hand is remembering its past. There are two parts to these flashbacks. One follows the recent past of Naoufel as he works as a pizza delivery man, falls for Gabrielle, and tries to get close to her, leading up to the loss of his hand. The other consists of snatches from his childhood with his loving parents, who he has lost in a tragic accident (the accident itself is also only shown in brief glimpses until the film nears its end). This fits with the way we remember our own past — the immediate past can be recalled more or less as one unbroken sequence, while distant memories take on the quality of a dream.
The two strands eventually merge and the film ends on an ambiguous, but hopeful note. I Lost My Body won the top prize at Cannes Critics' Week, becoming the first animated feature to do so. It also won both the feature film and audience awards at the highly regarded Annecy animated film festival. But that's not why you should watch this film. Watch it for the beautiful, moving experience that it is. And for being a lovely example of the cathartic power of art.