“I Lost My Body” is not your typical animated motion picture. It’s not because the filmmakers are French or that it was produced without the help of a major animation studio. It’s a bit more involved than that.
Jérémy Clapin’s celebrated feature debut tells the story of a severed hand traveling across Paris to reunite with the arm that is the “body” in question. And, no, it’s not a horror film. It’s a moving drama, half of which focuses on, well, a hand. And since the hand is in many ways its own character, Clapin gave it a name you never hear in the film, Rosalie.
“Hand is feminine in French, it’s female,” Clapin says. “That’s why during the [writing] I put a name on the character, Rosalie. Rosalie is doing this. Rosalie is doing that.”
The ’90s period piece is based on “Happy Hand,” a novel by Guillaume Laurant, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “Amélie.” It features two parallel story lines. One centers on the aforementioned appendage and the other on Naoufel, a young 20-something Algerian immigrant in Paris attempting to escape his dreary existence as a pizza delivery boy.
While Naoufel’s own story involves a childhood personal tragedy and burgeoning modern-day romance, Clapin needed Rosalie’s journey to feature a much different perspective.
“I needed the audience to discover the world as the hand discovers it,” Clapin says. “You have to hide what the hand doesn’t have access to. That’s why I’m always close to the hand and it’s really rare that the camera contextualizes the hand. I have to keep this kind of point of view — very on the ground, not able to see where exactly we are.”
Laurant’s novel is markedly different from the film in a number of aspects. The movie finds Naoufel recording songs on a tape recorder as a child, which becomes a key plot point in the story. There is a wonderfully written sequence on a lobby intercom where Naoufel “meets” his eventual love interest, Gabrielle, for the first time. And the end of the film is substantially different from the book. Clapin says Laurent gave him a tremendous amount of freedom to take the movie in a different direction.
“Guillaume pushed me to push myself more into the film and to betray the book,” Clapin says. “So, one summer I decided to start from scratch. I tried to build my universe much more in the script. For example, I start from the simple concept of the hand trying to reach his body. I build a character around the hand. So, I needed to have similarity between the hand who discovered the world, who’s touching the world, and Naoufel who discovered the world with recording the world. So, there is kind of similar relationship with the world.”
One of the ways Clapin and his team of artists chronicle this relationship is by animating the film to composer Dan Levy’s gorgeous original score. Clapin found Levy somewhat by chance. He emailed three or four composers a brief on the project and asked them to do a demo for the film. He put his phone number at the end of the email in case there were any questions. Levy was the only one who called him.
“We had a long, long talk and I really appreciate the fact that he wanted to learn a bit more than the brief,” Clapin recalls. “He told me he was not comfortable doing the music for the sequence [I sent] but he was prepared to do something not attached to a particular sequence. He sent me 10 tracks, so much more than the other [composers]. I was able to see that the film had found its music, his music.”
Lucky connections like finding Levy are par for the course for what was truly a passion project. There was no French TV channel funding and little public assistance. Producer Marc du Pontavice had a difficult time convincing other production companies to come on board, but eventually he found the money to move forward. And that sort of faith led Clapin to work from 4 in the morning to 8 at night for three years straight to get it finished.
It all paid off, however. “Body” became the first animated film to win Critics’ Week at Cannes and took two major prizes at the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival, including the audience award.
Clapin links the entirety of the experience perfectly to the film itself, noting, “The hand is really a tiny piece of you struggling with the bigger things around you. [It’s] destiny.”