How 'I Lost My Body's' Director Made a Love Story About a Disembodied Hand

Director Jeremy Clapin_Actress_Alia Shawket_Actor_Dev Patel_- Publicity - H 2019
Eric Charbonneau/Netflix

Jérémy Clapin says his animated tale explores memory and "what we lost with childhood" by following a hand searching for its body in Paris.

After the French film I Lost My Body in May became the first animated feature to win the Critics Week prize at Cannes, Netflix swooped in to acquire the project. Since then, and with the backing of the flush streaming company, it's been racking up kudos, beginning with the top honor and audience award at Annecy a month later and, more recently, the year's best animated feature prizes from the Los Angeles Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle. When the Annie Awards nominations were announced Dec. 2, it scooped up six of those.

The film, director Jérémy Clapin's debut feature, is based on the book Happy Hand by Guillaume Laurant, who wrote 2001's Amélie with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and adapted his book here. I Lost My Body follows two related tales: the journey of a disembodied hand (the result of a table-saw accident) wandering around Paris in search of its body; and the story of its owner, a young man named Naoufel (voiced in French by Hakim Faris, with Dev Patel starring in the English version) who falls for Gabrielle (voiced by Frenchwoman Victoire Du Bois; Alia Shawkat performs the English version).

"We enter the film from the point of view of the hand, [but] it was not only about a severed hand having a trip in Paris," says Clapin. "This fantastic element, when I was reading the book, allowed me to travel in my own past because the film has a really universal theme with the past, memory, our relationship with our childhood and what we lost with childhood. In the end, we all want to take back this missing part. At the same time, we have to try to be a better version of ourselves. I want viewers to look inside themselves."

The notion of telling the story from the point of view of a hand intrigued the filmmaker. "There's a world inside your hand," he says. "You can learn a lot just looking at the hand of someone. There is a past, and symbolically you can say there is also a future, because we read the future with the hand. It's a strong symbol."

The project, made for just $5.6 million, came together when producer Marc du Pontavice discovered the book while working with Laurant. He says he thought of Clapin based on the director's unusual short films; one, 2008's Skhizein, centers on a man who, after an accident involving a meteorite, is forced to exist exactly 91 centimeters from where he would ordinarily be.

I Lost My Body incorporated the use of Blender open-source computer animation software, specifically its grease pencil feature, for a 2D feel.

One of the greatest challenges for the filmmakers was the disembodied hand itself, a character with five fingers and no eyes. It required careful consideration to determine how to convey an emotional performance.

"You have to make the weakness a strength. A hand cannot be expressive with eyes, so we had to find another solution," Clapin says. "The camera is more focused on the tips of the fingers, and the sound is really precious to make the background and hand exist together."

Clapin adds that the "camera can go 'inside' the hand with flashbacks. The framing of the flashback is like a puzzle; you never see the face. The flashback is the perception of the memory of the hand."

This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.