A Space to Safely Break Your Heart — “I Lost My Body”

There’s a stillness that comes with having seen a movie that’s impossible in the right way. It changes the shape of the day, it brings a thousand thoughts stocked across weeks and years flooding back to you. “I Lost My Body” makes you miss the people who you love. Perhaps they’re near. Perhaps they’ve passed away. Perhaps you loosed them from your life because the damage and pain they caused was too great. It’s easy to think of some with love. It’s difficult to think of others that way.

Sometimes a piece of art can shear away the complications and give you permission to miss. “I Lost My Body” is a space that feels deeply cared for and protected, where you can simply let your heart break because it’s safe to do so.

How does it do this? It’s an animated French film about a severed hand that’s been separated from its body. The hand goes on a journey and remembers the life it led. That sounds horrific. At times it is, but not because the hand is repulsive. It’s actually got a lot of personality. It’s horrific when the hand is threatened or takes a risk, such as an early encounter with hungry rats. Other moments in its journey are touching and even transcendent. They often mirror events that led it here.

The films that make us sad often hollow us out. They make us feel a loss or an emptiness. They ask us to attach and emotionally invest and connect, and then make us feel pain at severing us from what we care about. They give us sentiment and then yank it away.

There’s nothing wrong with that in storytelling, but we often feel that it’s the only way to explore sadness. It’s the chief way sadness and loss are presented in our movies. “I Lost My Body” does something far different. It fills us up. It reminds us of the times we felt whole with something we’ve since lost. Sometimes we felt whole even as the world around us felt empty. It reminds us of the value of that connection, even if it’s gone now. It puts into stark relief the ways we’ve learned to feel whole since.

“I Lost My Body” is about dissatisfaction and discontentment. It engages feeling lost, passed over, just trying to find some room to feel valued in a job, home, life, city, entire world that doesn’t care about you. It does this very quietly at times. The hand’s exciting journeys are alternated with its memories of Naoufel (Hakim Faris), the protagonist to whom it was once belonged.

One of the films it most reminds me of is Celine Sciamma’s “Girlhood” – another French movie that was among the best of its year. Naoufel tries to live inside the quiet underbelly of everyone else’s louder lives – except in moments where he has to rebel against it.

Not all the reactions to this are healthy. There is a point in the film where I was worried it would romanticize stalking. And though Naoufel romanticizes it, the film itself doesn’t. It doesn’t give it a pass, which I was relieved to see. Is it handled perfectly? It’s hard to say, because the characters in the film don’t handle it perfectly. It feels like one of the more realistic representations in terms of the fallout from stalking. It is addressed and the film doesn’t pretend there’s a balm or fix for it.

One of the more interesting things that comes out of this is that Naoufel is often a jerk. He’s a nice guy and we feel for him because his life is painful. He’s also exploring being a “nice guy” who feels his repression justifies entitlement to someone else. While he’s been through trauma, that’s no excuse. It is a reason, as a viewer, to want to see him figure out how to be better since you feel that he can.

The other comparison is more stylistic. The quiet moments in “I Lost My Body” involve long takes of vast cities presented as if their features have character and purpose. These are often evocative of “Blade Runner” and “Ghost in the Shell”. The story is centered on magical realism and metaphor. It’s not sci-fi or cyberpunk at all, but it shares much of the sense of presenting a city – the small moments of possibility that can still be created in a landscape that’s vast, insurmountable, and unfeeling. There’s a sense of personal geography and the ability to change small things within a city that’s too vast and perpetual to know.

Sitting apart from the film, thinking about it brings a sense of longing – not for anything lost, but for the way of feeling loss that it elicits. The way we tell stories, it often feels rare to be fond of what we’ve lost, to feel close to it, to recognize how it stitches who you were into who you are.

It’s rare to be at peace with loss instead of at war against it. We’re taught to fight loss and fight the feeling of it, and those can be valuable tools. Yet there are so few lessons in learning what to do after, how to be content with ourselves in the presence of loss, how not to damage others because of it. “I Lost My Body” gives us both a path to consider these things, and a safe space to feel them even as you watch.

“I Lost My Body” is available on Netflix in the U.S. Be aware that the film isn’t appropriate for kids. It may be animated, but it’s not a children’s movie.

Does it Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “I Lost My Body” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Victoire Du Bois voices Gabrielle. Myriam Loucif voices Naoufel’s mother. There are also fleeting characters, such as a mother putting her child to bed and Gabrielle’s fellow librarian who plays a supporting part.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes. Gabrielle and her co-librarian share a few words.

3. About something other than a man?

No.

The cast of characters is very limited, but that’s no reason it couldn’t have done a better job here. Even in the spare moments that two women interact, it’s about Naoufel.

Much of the film is framed around the hand’s experiences: memories of the past when it was attached, as well as events it observes or influences in the present when it’s free of its body. This isn’t much of a defense either.

One might argue that Naoufel’s exposure to almost entirely men in his daily life creates unrealistic and toxic expectations he places on himself. While this is a part of the film, it’s touched on as a texture and environment more than treated as a focus. It’s a foundational aspect to Naoufel’s character, and that’s important, but it’s not a theme that’s explored.

While “I Lost My Body” is ultimately responsible with its portrayal of stalking as creepy and not romantic, it takes a minute to get there. I’ve been stalked to the point where I’ve had to coordinate with security at events, but it is different in many ways for a man to be stalked, so I also don’t know how far my judgment of the film’s responsibility with this part of the story should extend. There might be an element or experience here that I might not be able to speak to, or that makes its handling or consequences less complete than I perceive. There’s no violence involved with this element of the story, but it still may be triggering for some viewers.

Women are treated essentially secondary in the story, and that’s a problem. We may be focusing on Naoufel’s experiences and life, but woodshop owner Gigi gets consideration that even Gabrielle doesn’t – and she has far more screen time than he does.

I do feel the film is exceptionally worthwhile – maybe even the best of the year – but that doesn’t magically excuse it from a problem that it has.

The feature image is from an interview with director Jeremy Clapin on That Shelf here.

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