‘I Lost My Body’ Director Didn’t Want Animated Story of a Living Severed Hand to Be Scary or Funny

“You don’t want to make ‘Addams Family,'” Jérémy Clapin says of award-winning film

Jérémy Clapin’s animated film “I Lost My Body” tells the peculiar story of a severed hand that has a mind of its own and tries to find its way back to its former human host.

But Clapin’s film is really about loss, destiny and seeing the world through another perspective, and the last thing he wanted to do was make the image of this hand into something too scary or too quirky that it would detract from the drama of the story.

“The subject is a severed hand, but the film is not about a severed hand. It’s about the missing part of the rest of the body. It brings a new perception of reality of how you explore character, how you can tell stories and how you see the world and experience the world in a different way,” Clapin told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman Tuesday night. “When you get involved on this kind of story, you don’t want to make ‘Addams Family.’ You want to make something new.”

“I Lost My Body” screened at the Landmark Theatres in Los Angeles Tuesday as part of TheWrap’s Awards and International Screening Series. Clapin explained to the audience that to strike the right tone between this fantastical, surreal scenario and the more tragic, human parts of the story, he had to make the hand not quite anthropomorphic but to characterize it as though it were an animal learning how to move and how to survive.

And sure enough, the severed hand in “I Lost My Body” scuttles about like a crafty hermit crab, fashioning a discarded can of ravioli as a form of protection or scurrying up poles and into vents as it aims to avoid detection. Clapin also relies on some fairly violent, naturalistic imagery as it wards off attacks from subway rats or how it inadvertently strangles a bird to avoid plummeting to its death.

“I wanted it to be light, to be natural as much of a hand can be natural, and to be more animal, discovering how to walk, how to experiment with the world, and also I want the audience to be experimenting also with the first step with the hand and discovering the world with the camera only through the tip of a finger, as a hand does,” Clapin said. “So my purpose was not only to tell a story, but to experiment with a new kind of story, new kind of character, new kind of way to see life.”

“I Lost My Body” is an animated film based loosely on a novel by the screenwriter of “Amélie,” Guillaume Laurant, called “Happy Hand.” And though Clapin takes some liberties from the original concept, the film never feels jarring as it frequently cuts back and forth between the severed hand’s wordless journey and to the tragic backstory of the film’s human protagonist, all leading to how he ultimately comes to lose that hand in the first place.

All of Clapin’s films have incorporated some fantastical elements into the storytelling, and with “I Lost My Body,” Clapin explained that his biggest challenge was editing together those two separate perspectives to make it believable and realistic despite the impossible premise.

“This is about a piece of the body, the hand, and I wanted the editing to be like a puzzle movie, a piece of something bigger,” Clapin said. “I wanted to introduce the film like several pieces of a story, and all those pieces are trying to get to make sense with other pieces and to bring one story at the end. It was my proposal not just to tell a story but to reconsider how to edit a story, how to bring fantasy into something real.”

“I Lost My Body” won a prize at the Cannes Critics’ Week after making its debut there earlier this summer, and it was since acquired by Netflix and is already available on the streaming service, both in its original French and redubbed into English featuring the actors Dev Patel and Alia Shawkat.

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