Head, hand, history and heart: on Jeremy Clapin's 'I Lost My Body'

Love and loss: A still from I Lost My Body

Love and loss: A still from I Lost My Body  

The French animated film, currently on Netflic, won the Nespresso Grand Prize at Cannes earlier this year

Naoufel’s most vivid childhood memories have a hand in them. The time he savoured the warm beach-sand slipping across his tiny palms. The time his father taught him how to catch a fly: “Don’t aim at where it is, aim at where it will be”. The first time his mother put his fingers on the piano. The time they lifted him, closer to the stars, for him to dream of being an astronaut. And the time he pushed the mic of his beloved sound recorder closer to the wind, prompting that fatal accident.

Almost as an ode to the past, Naoufel lets the hand chart his future. He shadows a young lady and takes up carpentry – a handicraft – at her uncle’s workshop. To know her better, to fall for more than just her voice. The voice he once heard on an intercom speaker as a pizza delivery boy. This first “meeting” of theirs, in the lobby of an attritional Parisian building, played with all the five senses: Sight (they never saw each other), sound (they spoke), taste (he ate her pizza after failing to deliver it), smell (the extra onions) and touch (his fingers failed to unlock the door).

They later become friends when she, unaware of his pizza-spurred pursuit, dresses his injured finger. When she mentions her dream of visiting Antarctica, he illustrates how the hands alternatively pressing into each ear create the aural illusion of footsteps in the snow. He even builds her a wooden igloo. The hands. Always.

Helping hand

And so director Jeremy Clapin makes a touching love story about the hand. I Lost My Body is, at first glance, an animated film about a severed hand in search of its wounded body. It is a survival thriller of a part braving a primal city under construction — fending off rats, pigeons, dogs — to find its de-constructed whole. The hand wading through Paris by battling hostile native elements is reflected in Naoufil’s status as a dark-skinned migrant in a nation infamous for its brutal immigration policies. This is also echoed in the composition of Dan Levy’s haunting score. Listen to the film’s signature theme (J’ai perdu mon corps) closely: The electronic synth-like background track evokes the frenetic and modern soundscape of a perilous city. And the primary track — the traditionalism of a flute morphs into strings — evokes a soulful cry for help, like a name looking for its identity.

But I Lost My Body is also a film about an emotionally severed man who discovers the fateful hand of heartbreak in the healing of a body. It is a hopeful tragedy about a displaced boy so conditioned to breaking figuratively that it takes a literal kind of brokenness to complete him. As an orphan, a loser and a lover, he is so used to having his feelings hurt that it takes the most physical medium of feeling – the human hand – to disappear for the pain to stop.

Heart and body

The trick lies in how the two narrative threads are not simultaneous: The adventures of the hand are juxtaposed against its memories of Naoufel easing his way into Gabrielle’s life. The closer it gets to finding him, the harder a rudderless Naoufel frames his idea of love as an anchor. The harder Naoufel chases the construct of companionship, the faster his hand marches towards a body reeling from destruction. The fingers remember so that, one day, the mind can forget.

When the hand reaches him, it connects the missing link in Naoufel’s mental circuit. By resting – fleetingly, like a pining ghost – in sync with the stunted arm, it aids a sleeping Naoufel to complete a recurring nightmare: The car accident, the impact, the dying parents. The fruition of this fractured memory liberates him from a lifetime of guilt. In a profoundly inventive closing sequence, a boy abandons his sense of touch — girl, hand — to embrace the art of feeling. A sense of an ending marries the sound of breaking free.

The hand watches Gabrielle listen to Naoufel’s sound recorder: He’s gone, but she visualizes his tension, his run-up, his leap off the terrace...and his landing. Their first meeting comes full circle: This time, she admires his sound without seeing him. It perhaps dawns upon her that Naoufel’s obsession with a recorder stemmed from the fact that sound travels slower than light: The sound of his life was always a beat behind the light of his destiny.

He lands on a tower crane — the building blocks of new-age landscapes — after losing his head, hand, history and heart. Ready to rebuild. In perfect sync with the imperfections of his surroundings. Suddenly, Naoufel’s ordinariness is lent purpose by irrevocable damage. Suddenly, by virtue of merely existing, he becomes extraordinary. And the film’s title sounds like a martyr’s final war cry.

(The writer critiques cinema, adores sports and tolerates life)

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 11:27:30 PM |

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