Directed by Jérémy Clapin
Animated movies can cast a spell over you in a way I don’t think live action can. Just the basics of how they present their worlds, the hand drawn style, can settle your or disturb you so easily. In I Lost My Body there is plenty to be disturbed by, and it adds up to a haunting sort of wholesomeness. It’s a story about a boy, Naoufel, before and after he severs his own hand in a wood shop accident.
That incident is the starting point for the film. We then follow his severed hand as it crawls, climbs and floats through the city to find its way back to Naoufel. The other half of the story follows Naoufel as he falls for and subsequently stalks a young woman. Though this romantic narrative isn’t meant to be so uncomfortable, it definitely is. At the same time, though, I’d say this discomfort works in the film’s favor. It might make you weary of Naoufel and his expectations, but it also makes him all that more of a tragic figure, someone who doesn’t understand that his approach to life might have something to do with his own sadness.
There is also much more sadness to the film, documented in flashbacks that tell us how Naoufel’s parents were killed in a car crash when he was a young boy. From there, it seems, he has been eternally depressed, now loving with an uncaring landlord and a self-absorbed roommate. In hindsight, understanding his lack of awareness when it comes to his infatuation with Gabrielle, it seems maybe his frustrations with his roommates might have more to do with his own subjective point of view, how he paints himself as a victim.
So Naoufel is a fascinating figure, one not unlike Edward Scissorhands or any other character who is defined almost exclusively by how she or he is bullied by the world. He is quite, quite sad, and perhaps we’re meant to question the degree of his sadness. To a point it is frighteningly understandable, but from there he might be his own worst enemy.
In any case he’s a character looking for some kind of salvation, being so sure he doesn’t have it within him. While out delivering pizzas one night (and in his self-victimizing way he acknowledges how poor at the job he is without considering how he might improve), he meets Gabrielle and becomes deeply enamored with her. After a few days sneaking around he maneuvers his way into her uncle’s workshop as his apprentice and instigates a friendship with her.
His unabashed pining for her is concerning since we know how it will turn out once she learns that none of this is exactly happenstance. It also turns him into that much more of a tragic figure, especially as, at this point, our relationship to him changes. Rather than empathizing with his melancholy and trauma, we now look at him a little more critically. In a sense his only ally, the audience, has now left him too.
But then that’s when his severed hand shows up, at least as presented in the film’s time-jumping narrative. It’s quite sweet, to see by this point all that the hand has endured to get there, to make Naoufel whole again or to try to.
I suppose the power of this film is similar to that of any good coming of age film. It’s a character yearning so strongly for something only to be disappointed by failure of some kind, then ultimately learning that real value is produced from within. You learn amidst the stumbling.
So even if Naoufel himself doesn’t realize this, we do. We see how deeply scarred and even troubled he is, how much he yearns to be apart from himself. And then we see how hard his hand worked just to find its way back to him, reminding us that he was whole to begin with, even if he couldn’t see it.