You can’t always win.
I think Netflix is doing J’ai perdu mon corps [I Lost My Body] a disservice by using the word “romance” to describe it wherever I look. Jérémy Clapin‘s animated film is most definitely not that. While Guillaume Laurant‘s novel Happy Hand—which he and Clapin adapted—might have been (I haven’t read it), this cinematic version of a young man’s (Dev Patel‘s Naoufel) lustful intrigue, sparked by loneliness, for a young woman (Alia Shawkat‘s Gabrielle) he delivered a pizza to once is very intentionally not handled as a meet-cute. It instead speaks to his character’s longing for empathy via compassionate conversation. He’s an orphaned Arab immigrant now living in Paris with a father and son who don’t treat him like family. Naoufel doesn’t yearn for romance. He yearns for home.
This desire is so integral to his identity today that his severed hand (identified by a birthmark seen in flashback) wants the same. We watch as this extremity stages a jailbreak from the hospital it’s been bagged and tagged within, its main drive pulling it through harrowing experiences with pigeons, rats, dogs, and automobiles to find Naoufel. The reason is elegantly presented by its own memories of trying to catch a fly many years ago or pressing the keys of a piano. Knowing it will never do these things again unless it can be reunited with Naoufel (a futile effort considering the doctors haven’t already reattached it), the hand becomes lost in a sea of nostalgia. So focused on past and present, neither has yet imagined their future.
Gabrielle therefore becomes a catalyst towards approaching exactly that. As such, we’d be hasty to just dismiss her as a love interest. The two don’t even meet face-to-face during their initial exchange over an apartment building intercom. So rather than see her and feel a physical attraction, Naoufel is enchanted by her heart. Here’s a guy who’s constantly belittled by his guardian’s demands for his salary and his boss’s refusal to treat him like a human being when unable to fulfill the pizza joint’s poorly-planned promise of twenty minutes or less. So when a car hits him on a delivery, he knows both men will only scowl about the money lost. Gabrielle conversely asks if he’s okay. For the first time since his parents, someone cared about him.
That’s a powerful revelation—one Naoufel would be stupid to simply forget as he continues his depressive existence barred from even a glimpse of joy. He therefore seeks her out, follows her, and interjects his way into her life. While he does do this out of a hope for affection, however, he finds so much more. By apprenticing with Gabrielle’s uncle Gigi (George Wendt) at his woodworking shop, Naoufel discovers a vocation that satisfies his hands’ needs to create. He discovers purpose, accomplishment, and a place where he feels included. Still unable to recognize these things as his own doing, he conveniently projects them upon Gabrielle. She becomes a reward fate has provided him to forget his troubles instead of someone who’s just as lost, sad, and alone.
What that revelation means for Naoufel remains shrouded as the hand’s memories gradually catch-up with its current adventure. We shift back and forth from suspenseful scenes of it barely escaping intact physically to melancholic sequences of its owner barely doing the same emotionally. That anguish and sense of worthlessness is born from what happened to him as a boy—a tragic event not yet fully explained—and it consumes his every action until meeting Gabrielle. Her interest and humor heard over the intercom that night is itself an example of déjà vu considering his only recollections of happiness were recorded on cassettes by him as a child to replay each day as a means of combatting his sorrow. That static disconnect has become his safe place for introspection.
The romantic angle is thus a distraction from what I Lost My Body is truly about. It’s the façade Naoufel’s lack of friendship and attachment has placed in front of him as a tangible goal to aspire towards. That sort of love could never actually fix what’s broken inside him anyway. He will have to confront what it is his hands remember and what his mind can’t yet forgive. This is why Naoufel is so desperate to delude himself into thinking his relationship with Gabrielle is the product of destiny and not a hard lie headed for a reckoning he isn’t prepared to face. It’s why he latches onto the promise of what she could be to build a metaphorical home that his mind wishes were real.
Making it so would be another layer placed upon his pain—one more replacement to satisfy symptoms without curing the disease. Healing necessitates tricking fate to restart his entire life over by extricating himself from the debilitating path it unfortunately laid out before him. Naoufel must do the impossible (not unlike a hand surviving countless dangers to fight for hope) and move forward without the guilt that’s weighed him down until he became too defeated to get back up. Like the old cliché goes, one must learn to love oneself before he/she is able to let another become a complement to what they already have. It’s not about forgetting what happened or covering it with a Band-Aid. We must acknowledge our phantom limbs and accept that we’ve survived.
courtesy of Netflix