France’s nominee for best animated feature relies too heavily on oddity, omission, and discarded ideas.
Today we look at France’s second of three Oscar nominations, the animated film I Lost My Body. I was hoping that France was going to go two for two after how great Une Soeur was. I Lost My Body quickly disabused me of that hope.
There are many elements of this odd drama that startle and intrigue. Ultimately, the decision to drive tension through mystery, misdirection, and plot development via flashback left me with a frustrating sense of blindly groping towards the actual heart of the story.
I Lost My Body (2019).
An amputated hand escapes from the laboratory in order to track down it’s owner. That owner, Naoufel, has more troubles than finding himself suddenly shorthanded.
Sleight of Hand.
For much of its run-time, I Lost My Body creates tension by obfuscating the larger plot. As the hand roams the dangers of Paris looking for Naoufel, it comes across scenes, images, or situations that remind it of moments in the life of its owner. This disjointed narrative could lead to deeper symbolism and meaning…but mostly it’s there to keep you invested in a rather undeveloped story.
Hiding information or using misdirection can effectively create tension. It can also piss the viewer off when so much of the information revealed results in dead ends or false leads. I found I Lost My Body to constantly be yanking you around with red herrings, and I quickly stopped caring about the story.
Buckets of Herrings.
The opening scene looks like a crime scene. The severed hand seems to be laying next to an object that looks suspiciously like a de-activated lightsaber. From there, we are whisked to the lab, where an eyeball and a hand break out of a fridge. Only the eyeball doesn’t matter. I guess the hand can see just fine on its own.
We get a large dose of flashback in the middle, about Naoufel and his fraught relationship to his parents. He idolizes his mother; respects but is wary of his father. He wants to be a musician, like his mother, but his father wants him to go into the sciences like himself.
Family drama. Tension. None of it matters. The parents die. Naoufel lives in a hostel, delivering pizza. So much for any of those elements.
Next we see Naoufel become enamored with a customer, Gabrielle, and pursue her (more on that shit in a minute.) OK, so now our pitiful protagonist will become caught up in a love story. We even see one of the older boys in the hostel trying to move in on Gabrielle to spite him. He looks tough, maybe that’s where the violent crime scene comes from!
Nope. The romance is a dud. The older boy doesn’t matter to the plot. Naoufel cuts off his hand in a stupid work accident. No crime scene. No lightsaber. It’s not even the same fucking layout as the opening scene we start with. The director must have forgotten how the movie started with all of the false starts and misdirection.
Naoufel is Awful.
(That rhymes, for those who don’t speak French.)
Naoufel is a lousy character, in design and delivery. He’s a sulky wet blanket, nursing his loss like a sad sack. Nothing about his story really adds up: he trains to play the piano, but it never seems to inform his later life, so him losing his hand is not the grand tragedy it appears. He is bi-racial and ostensibly Middle-Eastern on his mother’s side: no exploration is made of it. It’s just one more tragic element of Naoufel that just exists to make us feel “that boy, he’s really got it rough.”
Instead of doing anything, he just seems to listlessly drift. His one active role is as a creepy stalker, running a romantic sting on Gabrielle. (In another dropped idea, he meets her through the intercom of a high-rise. She’s in an apartment that’s not listed under her name, and she sounds decades older than the plot makes her. It makes literally no sense, and is so odd it begs to be examined…and of course it never gets brought up.)
All in all, Naoufel moves passively from one tragedy to another. The plot moves incoherently from idea to idea, often obviously just throwing up drama or mystery with no intention of actually resolving or exploring it. The animation is interesting, but not nearly interesting enough to keep me invested in a bad character going through random happenings. The surrealist bit of watching a hand traverse Paris wears off; there’s probably a reason why Thing is not the main character of the Addams Family.
At the end of the day, this film really left me cold. I hated its gender politics, even as vague and un-examined as they were. Every thought and idea in this film is vague and un-examined. The end is a muddled existential wet-fart, trying vainly to give any deeper meaning to an under-cooked drama filled with dropped symbolism and dead ends.