One of Netflix’s more curious acquisitions this past year is a gorgeous and hypnotically haunting animated feature that made an award-winning splash at the Cannes Film Festival: Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body.Clapin is adapting a book here — Happy Hand, by Guillaume Laurant (who’s worked as a writer on such films as Amélie and The City of Lost Children) — though this apparently isn’t Clapin’s first piece of animation to merge emotional unrest with traumatic physical displacement.
The story is like a tragic moving poem, and while it doesn’t directly tether themes together in an obvious manner, there’s definitely an idea at play regarding loss and longing mirroring the actual splitting of one’s corporeal self.
Two stories are working side by side in this dreamscape tale of a once-profoundly loved boy, Naoufel (voiced by Dev Patel in the English dub), sent adrift by an accident that orphans him and forces him to move to Paris where he’s raised in squalor, in a life devoid of kindness and connection. As a disembodied, sentient hand escapes a local laboratory, embarking on a crazy cross-town trek, we see Naoufel meet a young librarian named Gabrielle (Alia Shawkat) and fall in love.
As the young man struggles to find common ground with the first person he’s felt close to in a decade, the hand, in a separate moment in time, travels across the city to a place familiar to Naoufel. Along the way, it battles rats and pigeons, dodges pedestrians and cars, and struggles to traverse the harrowing cityscape, all the while delivering a very different type of narrative, and slice of animation, than the more traditional tragicomedy going on between Naoufel and Gabrielle.
The hand segments of the story are phenomenally clever and surprisingly emotional. They differ from the Naoufel side of the coin, which feels more static and psychologically motivated. The hand’s journey is a playfully endearing action movie. It’s not treated like a goof or a gimmick but as a very primal directive. It’s more raw even than a pet trying to return to its family. Nothing deters the hand as it ascends buildings, travels into subway tunnels, and invades apartments.
There’s a delicate mystery at play, one that you almost don’t want to be solved because it’s hard to picture any good news stemming from their two stories possibly colliding or retroactively connecting. Obviously, I won’t divulge what the ultimate payoff is, or if it feels like the right resolution, but it sure does resonate. It’s a movie you’ll think about for a long while after the credits roll, possibly meditating on the brutal beauty of life’s lamentable left turns.