Two very different narratives unfold simultaneously in the animated French drama I Lost My Body, which won the top prize in Critics’ Week (one of the parallel festivals at Cannes) earlier this year. One story is a sweet-natured yet stalker-ish romance about a painfully shy and awkward pizza delivery guy, Naoufel (voice of Hakim Faris, or Dev Patel if you choose the English-language soundtrack), who takes a job as a carpenter’s apprentice just so that he can be in the vicinity of the carpenter’s niece, Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois, or alternately Alia Shawkat), with whom he’d shared an intimate conversation over her building’s intercom after arriving 40 minutes late with her pizza and then eating it himself in the lobby when she fails to buzz him in. Animation doesn’t particularly serve this lightly charming, naturalistic slice of life, but it’s crucial to I Lost My Body’s other protagonist: a disembodied hand that escapes from a medical lab’s refrigerator and spends the rest of the movie desperately trying to reunite with its former owner, battling hungry rats, a protective pigeon, a confused dog and a blind man—plus the elements—en route.
Director Jérémy Clapin (who also cowrote the screenplay with Guillaume Laurant, adapting Laurant’s 2006 novel Happy Hand; the latter previously wrote Amélie) makes it clear early on that the hand belongs to Naoufel, via a lovely montage in which it experiences sense memories: sifting through beach sand to pick up a shell, gently poking a snail’s eyestalk, oozing a tiny drop of blood after one finger gets pricked by a rose’s thorn. Since Naoufel the carpenter’s apprentice still has both hands, it’s a fair assumption that those scenes represent flashbacks, and the presence of a circular saw in the workshop strongly suggests a simple answer to the film’s most basic question. What’s disappointing is how little the accident, when it finally happens, has to do with Naoufel’s ardently misguided pursuit of Gabrielle, or anything else that we see him doing as a young adult. Instead, there’s an inelegantly superimposed theme in which flies represent the cruelty of fate, costing Naoufel not just an appendage but (as seen in an even earlier flashback) both of his parents as well. The lad eventually takes steps—more accurately, a leap—to regain control of his destiny, but this has little to do with Gabrielle, who ultimately winds up coming across like something of a useless appendage herself.
All of this letdown occurs only in the last 15 or so minutes, however. Until then, it’s good grotesque fun watching the hand make its way across town, scuttling Thing-like on its fingers. (Make it a double feature with the Addams Family reboot, if you like.) Its adventures aren’t as outlandish or repulsive as those of Pickle Rick (and of course it can’t talk), but there’s a similar improvised desperation in the way it contends with a world that exists on a smaller, more brutal scale than it’s known before. Meanwhile, Naoufel’s tentative romance works quite well so long as you remain unaware that it’s headed for an unsatisfying dead end; his meet-cute with Gabrielle in her building’s lobby, during which she remains entirely a disembodied voice (rhyming structurally with his disembodied hand), does a superb job of piquing his interest in her while keeping her motivation in prolonging the conversation somewhat ambiguous—she might be interested, too, or she might just be bored and slightly sadistic. Had Clapin and Laurant succeeded in fusing those two wildly disparate storylines, such that Naoufel’s underhanded proximity to this mystery woman leads directly to separation from his digits (rather than it merely being happenstance related to her uncle’s profession), I Lost My Body might have been more than a mildly intriguing, visually dynamic curiosity.