Hearing is Seeing is Feeling: 'I Lost My Body', a Severed Hand, and a Tape Recorder

Netflix

I Lost My Body appeared on Netflix seemingly out of nowhere and has continued to fly somewhat under the radar despite its Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Jérémy Clapin’s rather strange film follows the parallel stories of boy meets girl alongside a disembodied hand searching for its body. Sounding bizarre yet? I’m not going to convince you otherwise, but like so many of the quirks of French cinema, the film weaves together a thoughtful story to question how we can navigate our lives as individuals – philosophically, but also literally.

The film opens creepy as hell. A fly buzzes past a growing pool of blood and a young man who we will later come to know as Naoufel (Hakin Faris) collapsed on the floor. A severed hand also lies inanimate beside him, and whole the situation seems like it could have come out of a murder mystery. The foreboding music with its mimicry of a stuttering heartbeat in its fuzzy beat almost tells its own story. Suddenly we’re in black and white as a little boy plays with a tape recorder, asking his father about a fly that seems to have stepped through time from the previous sequence. There’s a lot of gentle time jumping, but the fly seems immune to it, popping up everywhere, but more on that later.

The framing already has shown us this fly, and the lonely hand, more than Naoufel’s face. The idea of ‘hearing’ and ‘feeling’ already more prominent than seeing. Credit has to go to sound designers Manuel Drouglazet and Coste Anne-Sophie, as well as composer Dan Levy, because the soundscape is specifically vital not only to this story, but also to Naoufel. As a child, everywhere he goes he records on his little tape player. There’s a moment early on where he stands in his parents’ garden recording the flies buzzing around the plants. What conjures up a more vibrant memory of sound than the buzz of a fly? The music here drowns out any ambient noise, because we’re being asked to feel, through music, what the scene means.

Netflix

When we rejoin the present, it is within a fridge full with jars of eyes and dissected limbs. A severed hand – the severed hand – pushes its way to freedom. Now on the floor, an eyeball rolls past, but it is somehow the hand that is able to ‘see’ its way around. It approaches a piece of shattered glass, using it to break the plastic wrapping it is contained in, despite the blood it pricks. The hand is given more agency than the eyeball, and indeed the power of sight in general, since it can move and apparently see. And indeed, once it escapes the floor the hand sits on the windowsill and ‘looks’ over the city in a very human way before it jumps.

As it falls, we’re thrown back in time to a montage of Naoufel as a baby, and Clapin shifts our attention from sound to touch. Pressing a painted handprint on a wall, probing a snail’s antennae, reaching out for a rose and a drop of blood blooming for the first time. The hand grasps a shell lying in the sand from underneath it. We all know what that feels like; the weight of shifting particles of sand. Touch, weight, feeling something above watching it. In cinema, in animation, as in everyday life, we’re often distracted by what we can see. Our vision often overpowers our other senses because our society uses it most frequently to communicate with us. Clapin has already highlighted what sound can tell instead, and now he homes in on touch.

Most of the film follows Naoufel in his twenties, after a car crash that killed his parents, still with two hands but stuck in a dead-end job as a pizza delivery guy. He had an ambitious childhood but losing his family has put a rut in his prospects. After crashing his scooter thanks to another pesky fly, he gets into a light argument with the voice of a client on an apartment intercom. He’s late with her pizza, the buzzer won’t let him in, and the food is a mess after the accident anyway. In an attempt to wait out the pouring rain outside, he sits in the entryway and talks with the young woman, Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois). Their relationship is first built without them even seeing each other. Naoufel asks what it’s like up in her apartment. ‘I can hear the wind,’ she tells him. ‘When the wind is really strong, I can feel the building swaying.’ It’s interesting to note that Gabrielle talks about what she hears and feels, as opposed to her view from the 35th floor like he asks.

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Naoufel goes on to seek Gabrielle out at the library where she works and follows her (somewhat creepily when you think about it) to her uncle’s carpentry workshop. Naoufel begins apprenticing there and grows closer to her too. But when he eventually reveals that, after speaking over the intercom, he basically stalked his way into her life despite pure intentions, it’s pretty understandable that Gabrielle doesn’t want a part in it. Depressed and more lost than ever, Naoufel gets into a fight at a party and goes back to work the next day exhausted and numb. Things come full circle back to the beginning, and I’d suggest if you’re squeamish you look away now because this scene is the literal moral story of ‘don’t operate heavy machinery when blah blah’. In trying to catch yet another fly, Naoufel loses focus on his own safety, and slips his wrist into the path of the band saw. When the hand is severed, lying alone on the floor, the fly crawls out of its fist, alive and well… what’s that supposed to mean?

Well, the flies follows Naoufel everywhere, almost like an omen of bad luck: it’s there when he crashes his scooter, when he chops off his hand, it’s even sitting in a toy of an upturned car the hand comes across that is eerily reminiscent of the accident that killed his parents. Clapin has said the fly is used to connect Naoufel’s past and present, to drive the story forward. But you could read into it more as we film nerds like to. Flies have these enormous jewelled eyes, yet we never really think of them by what they can see but instead associate them with their annoying buzzing sound. That sound probably gets to us more than it should, when it is really harmless and minor. Many harmless and minor things in our lives get to us and do more harm from our anxiety about them than their actual existence.

I Lost My Body is a patchwork of little things in life going awry, whether in or out of the character’s control. That’s life. But Naoufel has literally lost a tool for feeling things out, albeit if later in his own timeline. But as an audience we see the separation of his metaphorical ability to feel paralleled for a reason. All the time there’s the expectation that once the hand gets home to its body, the story will be resolved. But, when the hand eventually does find its way back to Naoufel, it lies in the place it should connect to his wrist while he sleeps. Until Naoufel moves away. The hand cannot be reunited with its body, but maybe it can help its boy feel again. The hand hides under the bed when Naoufel wakes and listens with him as he plays back his tape recordings from his childhood. The sounds make something click in Naoufel’s head, and the hand understands too.

Rushmore

The hand leaves hints for Gabrielle, who finds her way to the rooftop where she and Naoufel had talked about being irrational is and admired a nearby crane standing boldly against the city skyline. There she finds his tape recorder, hidden under a plank overhanging the edge of the building. The recording begins as we heard Naoufel hear it in bed, but suddenly it stops, a new recording taking its place. Hissing wind, the microphone being spun in an arc. Feet jumping onto the roof, kicking a bottle which Gabrielle notices a short way away. Light footsteps, and the handless Naoufel (who we see in flashback, but half obscured, and never his eyes) jumps from the rooftop and lands on the crane. The crane they had looked at together. Two characters at different times seeing differing things but united this time by the sounds that Naoufel created. Sounds that generate feelings, and thus understanding.

The resolution and conclusion of the film isn’t about Naoufel getting the girl – in fact, we don’t even see them meet again after Gabrielle walks out – or even about reuniting with his hand. It’s about them understanding each other, about feelings resolving the misunderstandings, revealing true intentions. Naoufel realises that sound is his tool for this, not what he sees to be real. And the hand, the thing that can only possibly feel yet somehow ‘sees’ things so much clearer, is the instrument that eventually solves it for him by leading Gabrielle to find his work. Who knows what Naoufel goes on to do, if he ever speaks with Gabrielle again? All that’s there at the end is a boy sat on a crane, a disembodied hand disappearing into the snow, and a tape recorder playing out.

 

I Lost my Body is available to stream on Netflix

 

by Daisy Leigh Phippard

Daisy (she/her) studied film production at Arts University Bournemouth and freelances in the industry with the aspiration of becoming a director and screenwriter. A lover of independent and foreign film with female perspectives, her favourites include Pan’s LabyrinthThe HandmaidenFrida and anything that has ever come out of Hayao Miyazaki’s brain. You can see her work on her website and follow her on TwitterLetterboxd and Instagram.

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