Thursday 5 December 2019

Handiwork: "I Lost My Body"

It's not every day you encounter an animation where the primary influences would appear to be Charles Addams and the Saw franchise. The feeling one gets with I Lost My Body is that Netflix have rescued a film that distributors wouldn't have the last clue what to do with, it being too macabre for Odeon Kids' Club bookings, or else to be easily marketed as high art. Yet that's just what Jérémy Clapin's directorial debut is, funnily enough. Clapin uses a severed hand's attempts to reconnect with its owner as a means of recounting an entire history of touching; the sense-memories its ambulant spare part shuffles through - a baby's fingers veering towards an electrical outlet, a child's piano lessons, a teenager's first fumbles with the opposite sex - help to convert what can't help but sound deeply odd on paper into a touching experience all its own. And it's never felt more appropriate that a project that had every right to be rendered as digimation should instead have been hand-drawn, artisanal, as individual and distinctive as the lifelines on your very palm. Here is a film made by hands, in celebration of hands, that merits nothing less than the biggest of hands.

Above everything else, I Lost My Body is a great work of imagination, as the best animations tend to be. Scripting with Guillaume Laurant, author of the original graphic novel, Clapin has clearly thought long and hard about how a sentient body part would scuttle its way through modern, multicultural Paris, at the mercy of everything from dogs to dustcarts, birds to ants. (The levels of peril involved makes the film unsuitable for the very young: nothing about it invites description as mild.) If that brings the overall trajectory close to the quest narratives of countless Disney and DreamWorks crowdpleasers, Clapin keeps stopping to insert melancholy pauses for thought that owe less to the fantastical than they do to the everyday. In one flashback, we encounter the hand's sometime owner Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris) as a haphazard pizza delivery driver making a connection with one customer via the shonky intercom on her block of flats - a long scene that involves no activity more outlandish than this young woman, Gabrielle (Victoire du Bois), repeatedly trying and failing to buzz our boy inside. It does, however, set up the movie's twin, parallel quests, for just as the hand seeks its body, so too Naoufel strikes out to meet Gabrielle in the flesh, and perhaps even offer her his hand. When we see that the apprenticeship he takes on to facilitate this involves the use of a buzzsaw, it's all we can do not to shudder.

The best sustained conceit of any animation since 2015's scarcely less existential Inside Out has been backed up with a scene-by-scene beauty that recalls Sylvain Chomet's approach to Edinburgh in 2011's The Illusionist. There's no particular reason Clapin takes the time he does to show us Naoufel's bounding ascent to the rooftop of an abandoned building, save that it sets a searching mood, and allows his team to busy themselves on images of the French capital at daybreak. (Like Chomet, Clapin is unusually sensitive to light, which makes all the scuttling a lot less morbid than it might initially seem.) Yet it also sets up a final act poised carefully between triumph and tragedy, and expands the film's frame of vision no end: more so than anywhere else in I Lost My Body, it's here that you get the sense of being introduced to a filmmaker throwing his arms open to embrace not just the world, but the fateful, dumbass mistakes made within it each day by people striving to pull themselves together to arrive at the lives that they want. The irony is that Clapin, announcing himself overnight as a major player in world animation, barely puts a foot wrong throughout the film's 81 minutes, landing at the last upon the emblematic image of the hand poised atop that same building, framed by the graffito we've earlier seen it spraypainting. "Je Suis Là," it reads. I am here. So now is Clapin, and so's the film, awaiting a thumbs-up on the Netflix red button. Let your fingers do the walking.

I Lost My Body is now playing in selected cinemas, and streaming via Netflix.

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