Thursday, December 5, 2019

Movie Review: I Lost My Body

I Lost My Body **** / *****
Directed by: Jeremy Clapin.
Written by: Jeremy Clapin & Guillaume Laurant based on the novel by Laurant.
Starring: Hakim Faris (Naoufel), Victoria Du Bois (Gabrielle), Patrick d’Assumcao (Gigi), Alfonso Arfi (Naoufel – kid), Hichem Mesbah (Father), Myriam Loucif (Mother), Bellamine Abdelmalek (Raouf).
There is, I believe, an even better version of the wonderfully weird, original animated film I Lost My Body that could have been made – one with little, or perhaps even no dialogue at all – a more impressionistic kind of animation told entirely from the point of view of the main character – a severed hand, who spends the narrative trying to get back to its owner after escaping from some kind of medical storage facility. When we are with that hand – that scurries around like The Thing from The Addams Family (or Bruce Campbell’s hand in Evil Dead 2) the film is a delight – we get a street level view of Paris as the hand makes its way across the city, encountering dangers that most of us will never see. The story is intercut with what we assume is the hand’s owner – Naoufel – a not very good pizza delivery boy, in the days, weeks, months, leading up to whatever happened to make him lose the hand. These scenes are at their best when we are flashing around to various memories of Naoufel’s tragic past – all centered on the hand itself, as if the hand is remembering its past life a little at a time. The film loses a little bit when it focuses on Naoufel himself though – who you can choose to view either as a sympathetic, lonely person, or as a kind of stalker – the type of person who may go online to rant about how women don’t want “nice guys” anymore – depending on how generous you want to be with him.
Directed by Jeremy Clapin, from a screenplay he co-wrote with Guillaume Laurant based on his novel, I Lost My Body is one of the highlights of animation this year. It is another reminder that the rest of the world is well-ahead of North America in considering animation a suitable vehicle for storytelling not aimed at children. I Lost My Body is a macabre story – it’s not an overtly scary film, although there are any number of tense moments in it (perhaps not more so than a confrontation with some rats in the subway system) – and Netflix has made it available in an English dubbed version – so perhaps older children (10 and up) with a twisted sense of humor will enjoy it – but it’s clearly a film meant for older audiences.
Whenever the hand is onscreen, I Lost My Body is at its peak – I probably could have spent the entire 85-minute runtime just with that hand on its adventures, and been satisfied (had the film done so, and kept the quality level high, it would easily be the best animated film of the year). The hand is resourceful, finding ways to get around, mostly unseen, and fend off any number threats to its safety. The wonderful, mischievous score by Dan Levy buoys these beautifully animated sequences along just fine, with no dialogue needed. I loved the snippets of the past we get, as remembered by the hand itself – sometimes in black and white, sometimes faded colors, as it remembers its past life.
However, about a half of the film centers of Naoufel – the owner of the hand – in the time before he loses it. We know he has a tragic past – which is why he lives with some relatives who don’t seem to care about him at all. He delivers pizzas – but it horrible at it. He develops a crush, if you’re generous (an obsession if you’re not) with Gabrielle, a young woman he fails to deliver a pizza to one night – and has a lengthy discussion with her on her apartment intercom, the two never seeing each other. After that, he tracks her down, and integrates himself into her life – without telling her the truth. His intentions may be good – but it’s more than a little creepy.
You do (or at least I did) become sympathetic of Naoufel over the course of the movie, which helps these scenes – which still do look great – work. They aren’t nearly at the level of the hand-centric parts of the film – and strikes me perhaps as someone getting nervous that you couldn’t actually make an entire film about a severed hand (a short, sure – but not a feature). The scenes work – but they do feel like padding.
Still, I Lost My Body is a wonderfully animated, truly original film – which is a rarity in films in general, and in animation in particular. It is a very odd film – and its best, no other animated film this year tops it.

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