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Non-Review Review: I Lost My Body

I Lost My Body is a stunning piece of animation.

In a Parisien hospital, a dismembered hand comes to life. Distracted and disoriented by memories of its previous life, it scrambles out of the fridge and out into the world. Making a daring escape from the inevitable fate of medical waste, this detached hand embarks on a journey across Paris. This adventure takes the body part from the roofs to the underground, through the gutters and into the air vents. It confronts rats and pigeons, but also encounters rare beauty and intimate insight. All of this is part of a primal urge to return to the body from which it was so cruelly severed.

Taking the matter in hand…

It is certainly an interesting and intriguing premise, and I Lost My Body lives up to the absurdity of that set-up. Jérémy Clapin’s animated film runs a tight eighty-one minutes, which means that it never overstays its welcome and that the central hook never has the opportunity to become distracting. I Lost My Body uses this absurd premise as a prism through which it might explore ideas of human connection, of the unlikely ways in which lives intersect and collide within the modern world. Some of its choices are inelegant and clumsy, but it never lacks ambition or insight.

I Lost My Body is a moving tale of what it’s like to feel truly disconnected.

Naofel me.

There are admittedly some problems baked pretty fundamentally into I Lost My Body. As the narrative comes into focus, as the audience gets a sense of where this dismembered body part came from, the film reveals more and more about the hand’s original owner. Naofel is a young immigrant, who moved to France following the death of his parents. He is living a very meager existence, working a dead end job and struggling to find any purpose or direction in his life. Until fate brings him into contact with Gabrielle, a young librarian with a quick wit and a kind heart.

Immediately fascinated by the young woman, Naofel immediately upends his life to bring himself into her orbit. He takes a job with her uncle so he can move into her building, he starts taking out books from the library so that he might have an excuse to interact with her. Gradually, the two form a close connection and friendship, while she remains oblivious of the lengths to which Naofel has gone to bring the two of them together. For his part, Naofel is anxious and uncertain, wary of expressing his emotions (or even just coming clean) to Gabrielle.

Oh, brother.

There is obviously something deeply creepy about all of this. It’s a very warped view of romance, the kind that populates films like About Time or Passengers. It assumes that the best thing that a man can do to a woman he cares about is lie to her until he has managed to worm his way into her affection, without any appreciation of the impact of that manipulation upon her. Naofel is a particularly sympathetic example of the trope, and I Lost My Body manages to capture his loneliness and isolation very well, but it still permeates the film.

To the credit of I Lost My Body, the film ultimately avoids following this plot to its creepiest and most uncomfortable conclusions. It allows Gabrielle her righteous anger when she discovers Naofel’s manipulations. The film ultimately shifts its focus back to Naofel in its final act, suggesting that he needs to look beyond the idea of Gabrielle as a missing piece of himself. However, there’s still something quite uncomfortable in how casually the film accepts the extremes of Naofel’s obsession of a woman with whom he only fleetingly interacted. It’s a tension the film never acknowledges or explores.

Bright spark.

This isn’t a fatal flaw. I Lost My Body offers a very moving and engaging portrait of disconnected life in the modern world. There’s a surprisingly sweet and humanist parable neatly folded into its surreal premise. Despite the outlandish concept of a self-aware dismembered hand navigating the urban landscape, I Lost My Body is a surprisingly intimate and humanist portrait of the world. It captures the importance of small moments, of quiet exchanges, of the simple act of being.

The animation is mesmerising. In one of the film’s shrewder and smarter touches, Clapin repeatedly composes sequences to emphasise the importance of hands in navigating the modern world; an establishing shot on a bus focuses on the handles hanging gently for the ceiling, shots of Naofel riding his bike are tight on his grip of the handle bar. Through these little touches, I Lost My Body infuses its lost limb with a sense of personality, communicating the strange sense of completeness that has been lost.

A matter of record.

I Lost My Body suggests that the world once made sense to Naofel’s hand, even if it never completely understood the context in which it operated. Instead, it felt a more generic sense of belonging. It may not have grasped the full complexity of the human condition, but it understood its importance to Naofel’s journey through life. The film opens with Naofel’s father ruminating on the best way to catch a fly, explaining a technique that requires both skill and luck. That simple lesson feels like an important metaphor for life itself, offering a concept that can be extrapolated to more profound insights.

However, I Lost My Body also works as a thrillingly imaginative piece of animation. The hand’s journey across Paris is visually striking and surprisingly thrilling. As the hand tries to find its way back to Naofel, it encounters all sorts of life; it grapples with hungry rats in the metro, listens to an impromptu piano concerto in a small apartment, and grapples with a pigeon in the gutters. Despite the incongruity of watching a severed hand navigate a modern city, there’s a compelling and engaging humanity underpinning that, a sense of life in all its complexity and eccentricity.

Raising the roof.

It’s also surprisingly thrilling and effective. The animation is both evocative and expressive, allowing its characters to articulate a wide range of emotions while also lending itself to dramatic action sequences. There are moments on the hand’s journey that feel as thrilling as any summer blockbuster, as the severed body part relies on both instinct and desperation to find its way home. Dan Levy’s score beautifully compliments the animation, helping to convey a lot of the emotional weight of a film that is (by its very nature) quite light on dialogue.

I Lost My Body is well worth seeking out, one of the most striking and imaginative animated films in quite some times. Its storytelling is perhaps a little broad and clumsy in places, but it never lacks for ambition or ingenuity. It’s worth getting your hands on.

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