As inventive a piece of animation as you’re likely to see, the extraordinary “I Lost My Body” is about a hand with a mind of its own, and if that sounds a little crazy, this dark, strange and altogether wonderful feature will make you believe.
Directed by France’s Jeremy Clapin, “Body” was the rare animated feature to win a top prize in Cannes (the Critics’ Week Grand Prix) and it also took the top award and the audience crown at Annecy, the world’s premier animation festival. So attention is being paid, and understandably so.
“Body” is not the first film to have hands as its center of attention — Peter Lorre in “The Hands of Orlac” and Oliver Stone’s unfortunate “The Hand” come to mind — but this one is different not only because of its tone but because of the unusual way its story is constructed.
Animated in a completely realistic style (some rotoscoping was apparently used for the key characters) and set in modern, workaday Paris, “Body” starts with a scene that might have come out of film noir: a young man passed out, his glasses broken, a fly landing unimpeded on his cheek, a stream of blood spreading on the floor.
Don’t let that that blood fool you, there is nothing gory about this film. When we do catch a glimpse of the hand that has been separated from Naoufel, for that is the young man’s name, it’s a neat and cleanly severed appendage.
Though it’s only 81 minutes long, “Body” is absolutely packed with incident, telling its story (scripted by director Clapin and original novelist Guillaume Laurant, Oscar nominated for “Amelie”) in three different strands, two in the present and one in the past.
Everything starts when the voiceless severed hand wakes up, so to speak, in a laboratory fridge and, as an appendage that is capable of movement as well as thought, immediately gets the notion that it wants to escape out a nearby window and reconnect with the body it was once a part of.
A second strand, filmed in black and white, follows the hand’s flashbacks to what it did when Naoufel was a child. The third strand, also in color and alternating with the first two, shows the events leading up the severing as well as the aftermath.
That first strand, the hand’s journey, is the most visually astonishing, for the always on the move appendage has to contend with a curious pigeon and an aggressive dog, hold off ravenous mice with a cigarette lighter, and more.
Because of the skill of “Body’s” animators, these events, crazy as they sound, are completely convincing, and we end up rooting for the hand to make it home with as much heartfelt emotion as the original movie Lassie called forth back in 1943.
“Body’s” black and white flashbacks provide essential character background. We discover that Naoufel had a happy childhood until an accident killed both his caring father and his cellist mother, leaving him in the care of an uncle and nephew who are indifferent to his fate.
The third strand is in the present day, with Naoufel still living a dead-end life with his relatives and working miserably as perhaps Paris’s most inept pizza delivery guy.
But one such disastrous delivery has an unexpected result: Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris) finds himself in a slightly flirtatious intercom conversation with Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois). Unwilling to let the good feeling pass, Naoufel dedicates himself to finding Gabrielle.
While this may sound like “I Lost My Body” is taking a conventional turn, nothing could be further from the truth. You might say this magical, intoxicating piece of work does not have an ordinary bone in its body, and what a delight that turns out to be.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Playing: Laemmle’s Music Hall; Begins streaming on Netflix Nov. 29