Our life is like a mystery. We will never be sure what will happen tomorrow or in the future. In fact, the only thing that is predictable about it is how unpredictable it is. This uncertainty along with all the scary things that happen in our life, like losing our loved ones or getting our heart broken, can sometimes be overwhelming, making us feel damaged and defeated that we begin to think of ourselves and our life as unfulfilled or incomplete. It’s clearly a feeling that we all have experienced every single day, and it is also the feeling that Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris), a young Moroccan boy who has had a rough life ever since his parents’ death, is having in Jérémy Clapin’s peculiar yet profoundly heartbreaking I Lost My Body, a French animated film that won the Nespresso Grand Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Based on Amélie screenwriter Guillaume Laurant’s 2006 novel Happy Hand, I Lost My Body follows the story of Naoufel as he goes from a happy child to a damaged twentysomething pizza deliveryman who now lives with his uncaring uncle in Paris. Right from the first few minutes of the film, we know that life hasn’t been kind to him. In fact, judging from the blood splatter that we see early on, we all know that something really bad must’ve just happened to him. But instead of allowing us to know what’s happened, Clapin chooses to take us into a strange yet surprisingly moving journey of Naoufel’s hand as it ventures across Paris to reunite with his body. After all, there’s a reason why the movie is called I Lost My Body and not I Lost My Hand. If you assume that what follows is a whimsical story about a severed hand like The Addams Family’s Thing, worry not, because what we are offered here is rather one’s heroic journey of finding a sense of wholeness in a harsh place that doesn’t allow that to happen.
Along the way, the hand encounters plenty of obstacles, just like our life. From an angry pigeon, hungry rats, or even fast-speeding cars, everything that this hand is facing in his journey of meeting its body gives the film a sense of macabre comedy. But never once is the film missing a beat on delivering all kinds of emotion that it wants us to feel. In fact, it’s during this hand’s journey that I Lost My Body is at its most powerfulboth as a moving story and as a showcase of technical achievement that’s composed of detailed hand-drawn animation and Dan Levy’s astonishing score. Clapin manages to somehow make the hand a character who has a multitude of emotions. And he brilliantly illustrates it through a series of heart-pounding action sequences that show the sentient quality of the hand. Between all of that, I Lost My Body also keeps cutting back to black-and-white flashbacks when the hand was still united to the younger and happier Naoufel. Be it touching the grainy sands of a beach or holding toys, these flashbacks serve to remind us that sensory touch is integral in our life.
While the hand’s story remains fascinating throughout, I Lost My Body, on the other hand (sorry) also provides us a look at Naoufel’s life before the tragedy happened, where his misery is about to take a turn when he meets Gabrielle, a young girl who works at a library. At first, Naoufel doesn’t know how to get close to her, but after a series of stalking, he begins to make a move by asking her uncle for an apprentice job. Naoufel’s creepy behavior may be off-putting for some people, but Clapin manages to find a crack of nuance and sympathy without forcing us to condone his actions. In fact, it speaks volumes to Naoufel’s journey of trying to become whole again as he tries to have a real contact with Gabrielle.
It doesn’t take much effort before we realize that the sense of alienation that Naoufel is displaying throughout the film works in parallel with the helplessness that his hand is showing in its journey. And once both of their stories come together, the metaphor that Clapin is trying to tell here becomes even more obvious — how human beings will always be in a journey of trying to find the feeling of wholeness regardless of all the challenges and uncertainties that life throws at us. But here’s where I Lost My Body gets very interesting: rather than choosing the obvious romantic route between Naoufel and Gabrielle to tell us that in order to become whole, we need to find connections with other people, the film affirms us that there’s no greater connection than the one we have with ourselves. This is not just emphasized by the hand’s journey of reuniting with its original, whole self, but also by the liberating ending of the film where Naoufel has discovered a little sense of peace within himself and from his newly found love of woodwork, a vocation which began as a way to get closer to Gabrielle but ends up giving him his own wholeness.
This new liberation and self-discovery that Naoufel finds at the end is where the film really marvels. It seems that I Lost My Body wants us to remember that in a world where people tend to always look outside themselves to find a sense of fulfillment, looking inside ourselves and realising that said wholeness has always been present within us, here, right now, is what we should do. I Lost My Body may begin as a story about isolation, loneliness, and the hardship of navigating life uncertainty, but by the time we get to the end of the film, it morphs into a film that is quite the opposite, a hopeful story of a damaged young man putting himself back together and becoming whole again.
Reyzando Nawara is a passionate Indonesian based film and TV enthusiast who enjoys to write and discuss about cinema or anything TV-related. Big fan of Mia Hansen-Løve, Alex Ross Perry, and Noah Baumbach.