In its swift, endearing 80 minutes, French animator Jérémy Clapin’s first feature packs in romance, action, body horror and a surreal road-movie odyssey. Subjects raised, meanwhile, include the immigrant’s lot in France and the precarity of life in the gig economy. It must have made one hell of an elevator pitch: our protagonist is a severed hand battling its way through Paris to find the rest of its body. This plucky five-fingered flâneur escapes from a hospital fridge and tours airshafts, rooftops, rubbish trucks, babies’ bedrooms and the Metro, on a frantic tour Baudelaire would be jealous of, all the while reminiscing wistfully about the past [its back story is revealed in flashback].
Director Jérémy Clapin
Naoufel Hakim Faris
Gabrielle Victoire Du Bois
Original French title J’ai perdu mon corps
A melancholy ode to life emerges. Tactile memories start the flurry of black-and-white flashbacks to Naoufel’s happy childhood in Morocco. After his parents die in a car accident, he goes to live in Paris with his indifferent uncle and cousin.
There, his boyish dreams of being an astronaut and a pianist sputter into the reality of pizza delivering. A rainy night encounter across an intercom with a young woman irate about her late, destroyed supper turns into a bittersweet verbal meet-cute when she pauses to consider his situation. After shrugging off a prior accident on his bike, Naoufel asks about her heady view from the 34th floor and, momentarily, the two strangers escape from the solitude of city life.
The hand meanwhile has its own adventures, and it’s surprising quite how much you can root for a dismembered limb. Imagine if The Thing from The Addams Family had its own action franchise, lovingly rendered in 2D drawings. The film is adapted from the novel Happy Hand by Amélie screenwriter Guillaume Laurant, but Clapin sidesteps any cutesiness that Amélie might shudder to mind. There’s no shying away from gore and the ferocity of survival. The animal kingdom is no friend to our dear hand, who, in a series of ingenious and dynamic action set pieces, combats a dog, pigeon, ants and even sees off a pack of hungry rats (with a lighter!). In another surreal moment, it returns a dummy to a curious baby in a cot and takes a breather resting on her stomach.
Clapin sketches in a precise anime-style – until the climax of the crusade home, when the hand glides over a motorway with an umbrella. As it’s clobbered by the onslaught of passing traffic, the realistic cityscape dissolves into a dizzying spin of abstracted car headlights and street lamps.
Such a buffeting draws parallels with Naoufel’s own life at the bottom of the food chain. His love of wide open spaces, particularly the North Pole, provides a release that the film captures in dazzling rooftop views. Apart from the odd violin serenade, the soundtrack is dense and intricate, showing an attentiveness to small details that’s echoed by the curious young Naoufel himself, eagerly capturing on his tape recorder such prosaic sounds as the rush of air outside a car.
Looking out over Paris, Naoufel asks Gabrielle, the 34th-floor girl he has determinedly pursued and won over, whether she thinks fate determines their lives. It would be a nosedive into corniness if the answer was a clear-cut no. The hand, on its desperate mission, points to individual agency. But there’s no getting away from the sense of loss that lingers on.