We’ve all seen Paris through a thousand different lenses, but I Lost My Body (J’ai Perdu Mon Corps) offers what might be the most gripping perspective yet – literally. In this award-winning French animation by Jérémy Clapin, a severed hand flips, scuttles, and fights its way across Paris’ perilous streets to be reunited with the human from whom it was torn.
If this sounds like the grisly makings of a horror flick, the only ghosts here are those of a happier past. Loosely based on a novel by Amélie screenwriter Guillaume Laurant, I Lost My Body has all of Amélie’s wistful whimsy and grapples with similar themes – the trauma of loss and the struggle to find oneself again. Throw in a fistful of macabre hijinks plus a dash of romance, and you’ve got a bittersweet winner on your hands. The film snagged the Nespresso Grand Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival – the first-ever animation to do so.
I Lost My Body opens on a scene of blood and anguish. A fly buzzes around a freshly severed hand; just out of reach, Naoufel – the body to whom the hand belonged – lies stunned in his carpenter’s workshop. From here, two intertwining narratives unfold. In a series of poignant flashbacks, we see Naoufel as a listless and perpetually late pizza deliveryman, a lonely soul whose life seems to be slipping through his fingers.
At this point in time, his body is still whole – but as we discover from his childhood memories, the wounds lie deeper within. Once a bright, curious child doted upon by his parents, he was orphaned by a car crash and sent to indifferent relatives. The only comfort now left to him is replaying tapes of the music and laughter he once shared with his parents.
On the other hand (pun definitely intended), we’re introduced to The Hand as, post-accident, it bursts out from a clinical fridge and hightails it to freedom. We never thought we’d feel inspired by a hand, but this one – in contrast to its former owner – packs plenty of guts and smarts. Like a morbidly lovable crab, it scurries through bustling streets under a ravioli can, does battle with rats in the Métro, and hitches a ride on a pigeon (strangling it to death in the process).
It’s hard not to root for this spunky hand as it fights its way back to its former self amidst a hostile world, but its quest is tinged with tragedy. Short of a medical miracle, it’s clear that nothing can put Naoufel and his zombie organ back together again – just as he can never truly reunite with his parents, except through a paltry cassette tape. And therein lies the central quandary of this film, one that makes it so bittersweet and compelling. How do we find ourselves again after a terrible loss? And when holding on to what we once had can’t actually make us whole, how else do we begin to heal?
For the rom-com addicts, there’s a little romance weaved in too. Naoufel encounters a pizza customer, Gabrielle, as a disembodied voice on her house intercom, and of course he’s instantly smitten. But hopeless romantics be warned – clichéd this film is not, and its power lies in its recognition that no fairytale formula is at hand to heal us.
If you’re looking for reveries on life and longing for your holiday watchlist (the end of year does tend to inspire existential blues), this quirky gem should make the cut. The hand’s eye view of Paris it offers is quite the sensory treat – you’ll be able to almost feel the scrape of a curious dog’s teeth, or the fine coolness of sand through your own fingers. For all of us who sometimes feel cut off from the world, the magic of this strange film is its ability to reawaken our senses and to reconcile us – just a touch – with our wounds.
Catch I Lost My Body on Netflix.
All images courtesy of Netflix