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Review: ‘The Girl Without Hands’ is a disturbing but strikingly beautiful animated take on Brothers Grimm

A scene from the animated film "The Girl Without Hands."
A scene from the animated film “The Girl Without Hands.”
(GKids)

Sébastien Laudenbach’s handsome “The Girl Without Hands” (La Jeune Fille Sans Mains), which won both the Jury Award and best French Film Prize at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, is based on a dark, lesser-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. An impoverished Miller (voice by Olivier Broche) sells his daughter (Anaïs Demoustier) to the Devil (Philippe Laudenbach) for an endless stream of gold. In an attempt to destroy the purity that prevents the Devil from touching her, the Miller repeatedly humiliates her, culminating in his amputating her hands with an axe.

The mutilated girl departs and although she’s pursued by the shape-shifting Devil, she’s also aided by a supernatural power and finds happiness with a loving prince (Jérémie Elkaïm). The Devil intervenes and the Girl is forced to flee with her infant son to the distant mountains. Only after she’s proven she can care for herself and her child does she receive her true reward. Defeated, the Devil blows away, like a puff of smoke.

Laudenbach has changed the angel of the original tale to an unexplained “Goddess of the Water” (Elina Löwensohn), making “The Girl Without Hands” feels less like an allegory of virtue tested and triumphant and more like an arbitrary tale of abuse.

The film’s appeal comes from its striking visual style. The characters and backgrounds were painted on paper in bold calligraphic lines and unexpected colors. The results recall Isao Takahata’s “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” and the Oscar-winning shorts of Michael Dudok de Wit and John and Faith Hubley.

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“The Girl Without Hands” is the latest entry in the recent string of drawn animated films from Europe. Made on small budgets, these films present more individual visions than their big-studio American counterparts. “Girl” is a welcome reminder that animation doesn’t have to be synonymous with realistically rendered CG, but can be a means of artistic expression as uniquely personal as a signature.

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‘The Girl Without Hands’

Not rated; suitable for ages 14 and older with some nudity, violence. In French, with English subtitles.

Running time: 80 minutes

Playing: Starting Friday at Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills

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