Among talks of year-end, and even decade-end top ten lists, many critics I know have noted that 2019 has not yielded much in the way of great animated movies. It’s not as though every release has been bad – The Missing Link and Toy Story 4 both come to mind – but unlike previous years, where movies like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Coco were completely deserving of Best Animated Feature accolades, I find it hard to think of a unifying frontrunner. Something that does unite 2019 with previous years, however, is the inclusion of non-Disney ‘wildcards’ in most awards nominations – in this case, the underdog position is filled by I Lost My Body, a strange, visceral film recently released onto Netflix.
I Lost My Body features two simultaneous plots that only truly diverge towards the end of the film. One concerns Naoufel, a child with aspirations of grandeur who, due to cruel twists of fate, has grown into an ineffective delivery driver hopelessly in love with a customer. The other follows his disembodied hand as it crawls through the alleys of Paris in an attempt to find its owner, observing the lives of others both more and less fortunate than Naoufel along the way. These are told over a slow pace that makes the 80-minute runtime feel longer than it is, but the visuals and audio that accompany these strange scenarios, especially in the latter plot, still left me hypnotized.
By focusing on characters that have to find ways to efficiently move through space – a pizza guy and a hand without a body – I Lost My Body is able to explore the beauty in everyday environments, and craft corresponding atmospheres for each. The warmth of Naoufel’s early childhood home, in which he sneaks around recording the sounds of his youth, is a far cry from the wide, dangerous roads he bikes around in as an adult, where he is treated almost as badly as the rats his latent hand encounters on its own journey. Similarly, the pockets of urban space Naoufel’s hand is forced to occupy closely resemble slums and the forgotten corners of society, reflecting both the theme of injustice and the cruel atmosphere that director Jeremy Clapin crafts through the use of sparse backgrounds and careful sound design.
In fact, the score and the sound effects of I Lost My Body may be its greatest strength. Through animation, the filmmakers are able to craft any specific moment they desire, and in creating noises that perfectly match what happens onscreen, to an almost hyperrealistic extent, they have perfected a tangible sense of atmosphere. This fixation on sound is also signposted through the motif of Naoufel’s microphone; he is able to pick up on and record the minutia of everyday life, allowing him both escapism and a greater connection to the world around him. Though the plot may not always be the most engaging, and his near-obsession with a woman he has spoken to once can feel offputting at times, it’s in the details that this film truly excels.
I Lost My Body may have had more potential than it was able to fulfill, but it still stands as a fascinating use of the medium, and a breath of fresh air amongst the less experimental cartoons we’ve been presented with this year. In terms of Netflix animated movies, there are others I would recommend before this – A Silent Voice, Modest Heroes, and the Love, Death and Robots shorts to name a few – but for animation nerds and those of you looking to watch all of the awards season fare, I Lost My Body is still worth a look.