In the opening moments of the unsettling animated feature “I Lost My Body,” a young man, Naoufel, lies on the ground covered in his own blood. From that traumatic moment on, his consciousness will be split into two perspectives.
This surreal French thriller tells dueling stories simultaneously. In flashback, it shows the life of the adult Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris) whose parents died tragically when he was a boy. Rudderless, he scrapes by as a perpetually overdue pizza delivery guy in Paris. But his path is changed when he meets Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois) on one of his shifts — her voice over the intercom inspires Naoufel to transform his life.
But his present-tense story undercuts the constructive changes he pursues in flashback. In the present, Naoufel — the able-bodied, if hapless, young man — is gone. Instead, the hero is his severed hand, which appears suddenly and mysteriously detached from his body. For this part of the story, Naoufel’s hand braves Paris to find its way back to wholeness.
The director, Jérémy Clapin, plunges the audience into the hand’s perspective. He shoots the hand as if it could see, frequently animating it scuttling on the ground to emphasize its smallness and its vulnerability in a hostile world. The hand takes on pigeons, rats and cars in its journey back to Naoufel’s body, and the breakneck pace of these scenes contributes to the sensory overload in which every new image presents a fresh reason to recoil.
This is morbid territory, and Clapin struggles to balance the tone as he cuts between the macabre present and the hopeful past. At times, it is a guilty relief to re-enter flashbacks, because Clapin trades the feverish intimacy of the hand’s adventures for the calmer scenes of Naoufel, who is seen in comparably serene long shots. The stark contrast between these two views of Naoufel — the relaxed and the visceral — creates a dizzying seesaw that diminishes any deeper consideration of embodiment. You’re too busy gasping to wonder at what desires our bodies might have if their parts, like the hand, could move independent of conscious thought.
The style of drawing could have smoothed out the jumps between action and rest, but instead Clapin pursues a sketchy visual look with hard black lines that emphasize the forms in the frame, drawing further attention to the hand’s frantic trials. The murky colors make the world appear realistic and kinetic but at the expense of pleasure or beauty. The movie abounds with imagination, but is unfortunately too unnerving — even nauseating — to enjoy.
I Lost My Body
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 21 minutes.
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