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In a Parisian laboratory, a severed hand escapes its unhappy fate and sets out to reconnect with its body. During a hair-raising escapade across the city, the extremity fends off pigeons and rats alike to reunite with pizza boy Naoufel. Its memories of Naoufel and his love for librarian Gabrielle may provide answers about what caused the hand's separation, and a poetic backdrop for a possible reunion between the three. Based on Guillaume Laurant's novel "Happy Hand."Written by
Arty French animation "I Lost My Body" contains some lovely imagery, and others have applauded it for its poetic dramatization, but I want to focus on its clever self-reflexive construction. The story involves a character whose hand is severed, whereupon the plot mostly assumes a dual focus of that character with his remaining body and of that of his disembodied limb, the latter of which assumes an independent agency and movement. There's also a girl, who plays an important role in one respect, but the hero's journey is predominantly concerned with the boy and the hand. The foundational obstacle for both the boy and hand is to overcome a past tragedy of separation: the death of the boy's parents and, in the other case, the loss of the hand's body. All of which is congruent with the picture's self-referential pulse of the disconnection of modern animated movies, such as this one, from traditional hand-drawn animated cinema.
This is more than a handy pun. Most of the primary elements of creating animation are included in the narrative. It has music--the boy's mother played the cello, and he and a blind man play the piano. The boy also collected audio on a cassette recorder (a device which also serves a critical function in the overcoming of the heroes' obstacles). Also notice the focus in the story on disembodied dialogue (e.g. the pizza delivery scene), which is what voice acting consists of, and on sound effects (e.g. the sound of wind from pressing one's hand to their ear). Besides the promise of a generic romantic coupling, the girl's role here also is in the writing department. She's a librarian and recommends to him a novel, "The World According to Garp," which itself is a piece of multi-layered, self-referential fiction about a writer and writing. Additionally, the boy borrows books about igloos from the library, which provides him with inspiration for his architectural designs. Thus, we have design (architectural and written), a soundtrack and a score. All that's left is to build the visuals of the animation. For that, he becomes a carpenter's apprentice--using, as his employer gives a helping hand, tools, accessories and instruments to transform the material, wood, which comes from the same stuff the paper animators used to draw films on did.
Note that only then does the hand's separate story begin, from an "accident" of carpentry. Film is a process of reanimation; in live action especially, but also, through inspiration or as reference, in animation as well, film captures something alive--something animated--then kills and makes it inanimate as still images before, finally, reanimating what was once captured as the projected (or Netflix streamed, as the case may be) motion picture that the spectator views. Likewise, the hand's individual adventure begins when he is captured by the electric saw; next, the hand lies dead before becoming reanimated as something entirely different from what it once was. In other words, the disembodied hand here is a metaphor for film and, specifically, animated film. It's the film-within-the-film, the hand's journey nested between the outer story of the boy's making of that story, along with the girl as being something of our on-screen surrogate spectator.
Unlike in live action, these drawn compositions don't necessitate a physical camera. This provides a free hand to the perspective of the picture, the theoretical camera's eye, which in turn becomes the spectator's shared vantage point, to be limited only by the filmmakers' imagination. The handling of that camera here is where "I Lost My Body" most excels visually in my estimation. In addition to alternating between color and black-and-white palettes and 2D and 3D computer animation, there's some shifting in perspectives. We and the camera are sometimes like a fly--oblivious, perhaps, to the characters when we're at a distance on a wall, but a nuisance when we swoop in or rest too close upon them. Other times, we share the point of view of this or that character--both what they see in the outside world and, through memories and fantasies, what they imagine with their mind's eye. At one point, we're just a disembodied eyeball resting on a floor. We may even be a reflection in a subway mirror as we witness a hand hiding under a ravioli can scurrying by. (By the way, does anyone else sense a dig at Pixar--specifically "Ratatouille" (2007) with this sequence involving rats, but with other scenes, too, such as floating through the wind (albeit it with an umbrella instead of balloons) between cars, and I can't think of any better reason for the astronaut business here. It would be fitting since, after all, Pixar largely killed traditional animation.)
Even better here is the attempt, which seems specifically more suited to animation because of how it's made, to expand the sensory stimuli by adding texture and a motif of the hand feeling the physical world around it. We experience movies, to paraphrase Charlie Chaplin, as movement, two planes and a suggestion of depth; it's something we've always seen and, later, also heard. Of course, we also feel emotionally and physically in response to the audio-visual experience. Thus, sure, "I Lost My Body" is touching, but, moreover, its tactile focus, hand-in-hand with its self-reflexive framework, almost gives the impression that it's a movie we can feel, to reach out and touch back.
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