I Lost My Body (2019)

This is a thread to discuss this French, animated movie, directed by Jeremy Clapin. The film is now playing on Netflix.

Director: Jeremy Clapin

Characters: Naoufel, Gabrielle (librarian), Gigi (Gabrielle’s uncle), Raouf (Naoufel’s cousin?)

A quick synopsis for those who are considering seeing this:

The French animated film is broken into two parts. The first involves a young man, Naoufel, who is struggling through tough circumstances in his life. He’s a pizza delivery boy, and not good at it. I rather not say much about the second part, as it is something a bit unusual, and some of you may want to find out as the film goes on.

I think Mitchell might like this film, and has a chance to like this quite a bit. Somehow I think Don will think this is OK at best, and might be bored.

4 thoughts on “I Lost My Body (2019)

  1. General thoughts on the film (with spoilers)

    As I mentioned, the film has two components, ostensibly forming a whole. I think I understand the story involving Naoufel. My sense is that his story is about the misfortunes caused by fate, and the way an individual can gain some agency in their lives, and change their fate. In the film, Naoufel explains that this requires taking a different path, and I think he mentions that this is sometimes literal. Later, the film expresses this idea when Naoufel literally takes a daring leap to change his life. I liked the way the film reveals via the Gabrielle listening on the tape recorder. This scene was probably one of my favorite aspects of the movie. And maybe if this tale of Naoufel and Gabrielle was the only one, I would have liked the movie more–or at least I would have understood it a lot better.

    The second story, involving the severed hand, is a total mystery to me. Specifically, I can’t think of how that part of the film connects to Naoufel’s story. I’ve put some time thinking of possibilities, but I came up empty handed (pun intended).

    I have some other questions:

    • Does the role of the fly have some greater meaning, than being an interesting way for the film to make transitions between scenes and leaps in time? (I liked the latter, by the way.)
    • Is there any significance to the tape recorder? astronaut? Does the film simply use the latter as a marker for Naoufel’s past–and maybe his lost dreams?
    • What about the igloo? Was it just a romantic gesture–representing a moment he and Gabrielle shared?

    One last thing. I liked the direction in this, the composition of shots and the editing, specifically.

  2. I found this video review that was helpful…sort of.

    The review above suggested several interpretations for me. The reviewer (Zohair?) talks about the hand losing the body represents Naoufel’s loss of his childhood, his identity…and the metaphor seemed flawed to me. Or the connection between a hand being severed from the body with a boy losing his parents/childhood/identity—the foundation of his life—isn’t obvious to me. For one thing, a hand losing the body—as if the hand is a separate sentient entity, rather than a non-sentient part of a whole—is a very unnatural and odd concept. “I lost my hand” would be a more appropriate, natural way to express what happened. But, here, the hand has a point of view, which is hard to wrap my head around.

    Why do this? Why give agency to the hand? The body being equivalent to the foundation of Naoufel’s life makes some sense—the body is the foundation for the hand (not the other way around). Still, the hand as sentient subject seems weird. (Actually, Zohair talks about Naoufel losing his body, but that’s not precise. He loses his hand—or he loses part of his body—both would be more precise. This may sound like nitpicking, but I think it’s important. Naoufel losing his body would suggest a separation between his soul/mind and his corporeal body. The severed hand, as a metaphor does work as well to represent this.

    But what about this: Maybe the severed hand and it’s attempt to return to the body represents pain and damage that occur in the past (or at some point), and the hand’s attempt to find the boy expresses the natural desire to return to the past and reconnect with world that was lost. What the film says is that this is not possible. Naoufel can’t return to the world and identity of his past that his loving parents provided for him….The problem with this take is that the film doesn’t indicate that Naoufel is trying to return to the past. It seems like he’s moving forward.

    Or does the hand’s attempt to reconnect with the body represent the relentless pursuit of—the hand of—fate…but when the hand returns to Naoufel it fails to connect with him…and connecting with Naoufel would signify getting back on the fate’s chosen path for him? That seems odd…although Naoufel does mention that we can escape fate, but we’re only staying ahead of it, implying that it is a few steps behind…And when Naoufel jumps to the crane, we see the hand, forlorn(?), in the snow, left behind. As if Naoufel has outrun fate…at least for the time being. This reading doesn’t really work.

    Does the film use of the severed hand metaphor in a sloppy way or is there a coherence and even poetic power that I’m missing?

  3. Although I haven’t had a chance to read the original novel, “Happy hand” by Guillaume Laurent (who shares screenwriting credits for the film), I’ve seen a number of French posts about it and gleaned a couple of clues that might offer some insights regarding the film adaptation.

    In the novel, Naoufel (nicknamed Nafnaf) is identified as Moroccan (which has significance, given the historical context of French occupation and the French language’s role in Moroccan society and specifically in the arts). His parents are professors of French literature and consequently, the French that Naoufel learns to speak is “un français de salon” (basically, an aristocratic, pedantic form of the language), which doesn’t help him gain popularity among his peers.

    From the online comments, I’ve inferred that the book employs a lot of cheeky wordplay (many reviewers describe the novel as being very funny), so it doesn’t seem like a stretch that some of the symbolism in the film originated from this. For example, the word “manchot” is an adjective describing someone missing one or both hands (or arms), but it is also the word for “penguin”, or more precisely an Antarctic penguin. The imagery of snowy desolation and the igloo probably ties into this, or possibly other idioms that I’m not familiar with.

    The literal translation of “ne pas y aller de main morte” is “to not go with a dead hand”, which is an idiom used to refer to someone who goes all in, doesn’t pull their punches. It would not surprise me at all if the idea of the severed hand or Naoufel’s literal leap of faith stem from this. The publisher’s own punny description of the book’s climax states that, “Nafnaf est à deux doigts de renoncer à la vie”, which translates literally to “Nafnaf is two fingers away from giving up on life”, which is an expression meaning he is on the verge of giving up on life. Other hand-related idioms are similar to those in English, like “a helping hand/to lend a hand” or “to lead [to destiny] by the hand”.

    “Prendre la mouche” translates to “take the fly” but it’s an expression that means “to fly off the handle”. “Quelle mouche t’a piqué?” translates to “which fly bit you?”, which basically means “why are you so irritable?” (or I suppose it’s better compared to “you have a bug up your a**”). These expressions referencing flies are mostly negative, often associating the fly with (unstructured) anger. I suppose the ever-present fly in the film is representative of Naoufel’s unresolved anger or, more broadly, his issues, something in the background that he keeps trying to trap, but results in tragic consequences.

    The French title for the film is “J’ai perdu mon corps” which can translate to “I Lost My Body”. However, “perdu” has more meaning than just “lost”. It can also mean “wasted”, “forfeited”, “shed”, even “to cause the [moral] downfall of”. Until I had considered this, I merely accepted the severed hand as a straightforward representation of personal loss, i.e. losing a part of yourself in grief or heartbreak, trying to make yourself whole again in the absence of the missing pieces. However, if the choice of “perdu” was intentional, other interpretations pop into my head. For example, it’s unclear whether the flashback memories are those of the hand or of the body, nor is it clear whether the hand “feels” any of the emotional subtext of each memory. Assuming the “I” in the title is the hand, its actions of trying “to take the fly” has resulted in it “forfeiting” its ability to feel and be a part of Naoufel’s life. Like the cassette tapes, the hand is but a disembodied memory, without power or meaning unless there is someone to hear it, to be with it. The hand retreats and is gone after Gabrielle hears the sounds of Naoufel’s newfound courage, taped over the sounds of his childhood trauma.

    Of course, without reading the book firsthand, this could all be wild speculation — I have no idea whether Laurant used any of these idioms in his novel, but the French book reviews seem to allude to this sort of verbal wit, which is not used solely for the sake of puns but to force the reader to reconsider the language. I have to confess that I wasn’t listening carefully to the French upon first viewing, as I can’t help but read the English subtitles when they’re there, but whenever I revisit the film, I should watch it again without subtitles and pay closer attention to the words to see if the wordplay was kept in the screenplay, or if they opted to forego the verbal symbolism to reach a more international audience. It’s a shame that not everything translates readily between different languages, particularly when the source material is so heavily and intentionally dependent on the color and intricacies of its words.

  4. MS,

    Your comments are super interesting. What I’m trying to do now is piece them together to form a coherent interpretation of the film. Before I go further, I must say I feel a bit frustrated and annoyed–at least if the film depends on the type of wordplay you mention. I mean, there’s no way a non-French speaker such as myself would have a chance of getting these references. And if understanding the film depends on understanding these references, I cry foul! 🙂

    I suppose the ever-present fly in the film is representative of Naoufel’s unresolved anger or, more broadly, his issues, something in the background that he keeps trying to trap, but results in tragic consequences.

    Did you get the sense that Naoufel was angry or an angry person? I don’t recall that. My sense was that he was a kind, sweet guy, and I didn’t notice any hidden anger.

    However, if the choice of “perdu” was intentional, other interpretations pop into my head. For example, it’s unclear whether the flashback memories are those of the hand or of the body, nor is it clear whether the hand “feels” any of the emotional subtext of each memory.

    The idea that the hand may be having flashbacks never occurred to me, but it’s an interesting concept. This idea makes me think the flashback scenes at the end of the movie. We see a shot of the hand in the snow (in the present) and then there’s a cut to the hand at the beach, when Naoufel is a child. The editing might mean the hand is indeed “thinking” about the past, which is bizarre. I’m not sure how to understand this. The best guess I have now is hand represent fate (“hand of fate”) that Naoufel has escaped (In the present, he’s landed safely on the tower, and sitting down looking out at the city, with a shot of his arm conspicuously missing his hand.)

    Assuming the “I” in the title is the hand, its actions of trying “to take the fly” has resulted in it “forfeiting” its ability to feel and be a part of Naoufel’s life.

    Again, interesting, but very strange idea. What does it mean, though? How do you understand the function and meaning of the hand’s journey in the film?

    And how’d you like the film overall?

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