By Aishwarya Khale
THE POETICS OF MELANCHOLIA
The astoundingly surreal 2019 French coming-of-age movie, I Lost My Body – J’ai perdu mon corps (French), emerges as a singularly magical saga with a sheer unique journey that the director, Jeremy Clapin, walks us through. Adapted from the book, ‘Happy Hands’ by Guillaume Laurant; it is a tale of broken hearts and a human hand’s narrative in search of a secret which now lingers only in the past. At Cannes did it win to become the first animated feature in the Critic’s Week section. It is a triumphant macabre story of a hand searching its body, envisioned and portrayed as a tender love story and it confirmed its place in the International Animation circle.
A fantasy musing with a dreamy composition, it balances on a temporal reality and nostalgia. It leaves us with a question: How far away is one from what they believe one’s fate should be? Will the closures of destiny catch up with them? The movie rings true to an Albert Camus quote – “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” The movie breathes of introspective wholeness while capturing the accurate feeling of being lost.
We are introduced to a place somewhere in Paris; a medical lab wherein a severed hand seems to come to life. The scene breathes a sacredness that we tend to associate with the birth of a new-born child. The hand is now free of bondage and it scruffles to crawl, walk, hide and seldom ventures out into the open, very much aware of its being, like a fugitive fleeting through time.
The narrative explores love, loss and identity; which the audience trace through the hand’s journey traversing through the banlieues of Paris: an ever-captivating landscape rumbling with numerous identities, survival smitten birds protecting their offspring, wild rodents in sewers, narrow streets with sundry people and through equally dirty roads and fancy rooftops. The harrowing journey of the hand’s self-discovery leads us to the centre of the puzzle, leading us to Naoufel’s accident.
The screen then dramatically jumps to Naoufel leading a mundane life in the city as he struggles with his job, is in a dissonance with his uncle, wants to befriend Gabrielle and wishes he could travel to the South pole. This narrative plays non-simultaneously as the severed hand is in search of its wounded (physically and figuratively) body; Naoufel’s body. Not only does the hand effortlessly express through gestures and its own theatrical language but also stands independent of its emotions.
At the beginning of the movie, we follow a black and white flashback of when Naoufel is a child in Morocco. We see a montage of him playing with sand on the beach, playing a piano, flying his toy astronaut, recording audios with a cassette recorder and cycling with the focus of his hand on the bar. The loose strings seem to leave the audience with a sense of mystery and the dire need to find out the core of the puzzle.
But as we traverse further, we realise that Naoufel lets the shadow of his past manoeuvre his future. Naoufel copes with his identity beyond the realms of his childhood, family and forgotten dreams. Though the experience is painful and nearly kills him when he takes the leap of the building; he is ultimately being detached from a predefined fate which in return brings freedom which represents an assertion and forming of a sense of self that is authentic. When the hand reaches him there is an almost gentle existential liberty of memory and loneliness.
In the end, we see the complete flashback of the car accident and his parents. He replaces the audio recording of him taking the leap (his moment where he takes control) and decides to let go of his past. He jumps on the tower crane, free of his fate catching up to him, his past long gone. The reality seems tangible now. In a way the movie is a letter that resonates with everyone who struggles to find themselves in a world that forces us to leave parts of ourselves behind.