Movie Review: ‘I Lost My Body’ is a strangely beautiful animated feature
Director: Jérémy Clapin
Writer: Jérémy Clapin, Guillaume Laurant
Stars: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick d’Assumçao
Synopsis: A story of Naoufel, a young man who is in love with Gabrielle. In another part of town, a severed hand escapes from a dissection lab, determined to find its body again.
The buzzing starts low and then builds to that annoying hum we’ve all heard. When the fly appears on screen in the first shot of Jeremy Clapin’s French animated Netflix film I Lost My Body, we expect it. What we don’t expect is the blood that starts to creep into the corner of the shot. A bloody screw sits next to the fly, and then the screen cuts back to the opening credits.
(Side note: The film automatically plays with its original French audio and English subtitles. I have noted the French voice actors first. You can also select English audio, which offers some familiar names. I’ve listed those voice actors second.)
It’s a devious bit of foreshadowing as we see our main character, Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris/Dev Patel), on the ground. We can’t tell the nature of his injury. All will be revealed in due time.
We then move to a flashback scene of Naoufel and his father (voiced by Hichem Mesbah/Anouar H. Smaine). This is signified by a shift to black-and-white cinematography. In the scene, the father tells his son that he can’t catch a fly by trying to grab it where it is. He needs to aim just to the right or left and anticipate its movements.
All of this is setup for the film’s main attraction – a disembodied hand that begins crawling around the city looking for its body (hence the title). This is where the film’s form – animation – works greatly in its favor. We give much more bandwidth to animated films and TV shows in the lengths to which they can stretch reality. Most animated films do this in service of entertaining kids (though the best ones work for all ages). This one, however, is most certainly *not* a film for kids. You probably already knew that from what I’ve explained so far.
The film’s animation is fantastic. It has a beautiful hand-drawn quality without being too rough. The cutting between the present and the past gives ample opportunity for striking visuals in both black-and-white as well as color.
However, the film’s greatest quality is most certainly its music, from composer Dan Levy. The score for this film is one of the best of the year in a year that was full of great film scores. Its theme is particularly haunting and emotional. This is a film that knows how and when to tug at the emotions, which leads me to its writing.
The great thing about the script from Clapin and Guillaume Laurant is that it gives information as it needs to (Laurant wrote the novel from which the film is adapted). This film has many tricks and surprises up its sleeve, and each one pays off beautifully. As soon as you think it’s about one thing, the story shifts to a new narrative that unearths more of Naoufel’s story. He has already lived a hard life by the time we meet him, and it only gets harder.
There are other characters that move in and out of this story. There’s Naoufel’s cousin, Raouf (voiced by Bellamine Abdelmalek/Jonny Mars), Naoufel’s love interest, Gabrielle (voiced by Victoire Du Bois/Alia Shawkat), and Gigi, the carpenter (voiced by Patrick d’Assumcao/George Wendt). Each one has key moments that impact Naoufel’s life.
The film’s early scenes play out as somewhat competing storylines. There’s the fantastical journey of the severed hand, as it avoids being seen or eaten by rats – among other adventures. Then there’s also the realistic daily life of Naoufel – doing his best (but ultimately failing) as a pizza delivery boy. The film really cranks up when these two storylines merge.
This is a very difficult needle to thread. As I said, the two stories are somewhat different in tone. Here again, I think the effect is aided by the fact that this is an animated film. We’ll cut it more slack in the inclusion of seemingly fantastical elements.
From the point when these two storylines merge, the film begins to go back and fill in the gaps for us even more. We realize that Naoufel’s life is even more tragic than we could have imagined.
At a key point near the end of the film, we believe that these tragic occurrences will lead to even more tragedy. This particular scene plays out in gripping fashion. But just when we think we have the film sized up, it shifts again. What results is a film of incredible insight and beauty wrapped up in a somewhat gory and unnerving package.
I found this to be the best 2019 animated feature that I saw. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature for the upcoming Oscar’s ceremony, and it is available for streaming on Netflix.
Overall Grade: A