Saturday, January 04, 2020

Contenders: I Lost My Body

Usually when a severed hand scuttles about of its own accord, it is the stuff of horror movies, as in Evil Dead II, The Beast with Five Fingers (starring Peter Lorre), and Oliver Stone’s The Hand, the undeniable pinnacle of his career. This hand is something different. Instead, it represents humanity in all its tragic pathos throughout Jeremy Clapin’s Oscar-qualified Netflix animated feature, I Lost My Body, which screens during the 2019/2020 season of MoMA’s annual Contenders series.

Naoufel harbored dreams of being both an astronaut and a concert pianist, until his Moroccan parents are killed in a traffic accident. He subsequently finds himself living in Paris with his cold-hearted uncle and his sleazy older cousin. To pay his share of the expenses, Naoufel works (badly) as a pizza delivery prole, but his frequent tardiness is costly. Then one rainy night, Naoufel has an intriguing conversation with the mysterious Gabrielle through the intercom of her fashionable high-rise building. Soon, he becomes borderline obsessed with her, so he sets out to find the snarky librarian in real, face-to-face life.

As Naoufel’s story unfolds in flashbacks, we follow his former hand as it escapes from some sort of lab and makes its way through the streets of Paris, in search of its full body. We can tell it is indeed Naoufel’s hand by the tell-tale birthmark and based on second act developments, viewers can probably take a credible stab guessing how the two became separated. Yet, the exact circumstances still pack a dramatic punch.

The animation crafted by Clapin, “animation director” David Nasser, and their team of artists is unusually elegant and also distinctively moody, in a very French kind of way. Although there are clearly heavy symbolic and psychological dimensions to the film, the scrambling hand itself almost always comes across as being diegetically “real,” which is preferable. (Let’s be honest, most genre fans have seen more than enough “none-of-that-really-happened” cop-out climaxes.) Nevertheless, the ending is still enormously ambiguous, but it arguably works after a bit of reflection.

Regardless, Lost Body represents some boldly ambitious story-telling, rendered in a wholly unique but classy and sensitive style. The best animated film of the year was Denis Do’s Funan, by far, but it is still a fine example of what animated films can be. Highly recommended for fans of animation, I Lost My Body screens tomorrow (1/5) at MoMA as part of the ongoing Contenders series, and it currently streams on Netflix.