[Interview] Jérémy Clapin animates the surreal, sensory & sublime with ‘I LOST MY BODY’

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

“It’s not just a physical journey. It’s something much more metaphysical.”

Please pardon the pun, but we must give filmmaker Jérémy Clapin a hand. He’s taken Guillaume Laurant’s original novel involving a disillusioned young man and his disembodied hand and turned it into a poignant, gripping, and engaging animated feature. While the premise may sound something akin to a wacky adventure starring Thing from THE ADDAMS FAMILY, it’s far from being a kooky comedy. It’s fueled by heart and emotional drive.

Clapin’s wonderfully enrapturing picture is a cocktail of body horror, comedy, existentialist and surrealist drama, romance and nostalgia. In the film, Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris) loses his right hand in a careless accident on the job. As he’s forced to come to terms with his recent romantic break-up and take stock of his life in general, his hand becomes sentient, escaping the dissection lab and struggling to get across town to reunite with his owner.

How did this story first find its way to you?

My producer Marc Du Pontavice brought me the book in 2011. He wanted to meet me, because he had seen my short film and thought there was some kind of similar approach. We discussed and he wanted to make something along the same line [as me]. We wanted to make something really different. I decided to take the book and read it in one week, and I said yes. It was really hard to get funding – seven years of hard work. I of course wasn’t aware of this when I said, “Yes.” I was blown away of the character of the hand and his point of view. It’s not just a physical journey. It’s something much more metaphysical. This fantastic element brought me to see Naoufel in a very unique way – a door inside himself.

Were the thematic elements difficult for financiers to wrap their heads around and that’s why getting funding was hard? Or is it something that takes this long regardless?

It’s a kind of paradox. It took this long because we didn’t get funding, but also the film is here today like this because it takes long to work on it. Yes, people really had a lot of difficulty to pass the pitch because they couldn’t envision the hand moving. That’s why nobody was involved with us. But we’re living in a formatted, conformed world system. When you come with strangeness, or bizarre, nobody knows how to deal with that, or knows how that will be. It’s not good to get funding. I think we need to bring a bit more chaos to the system and art is chaos for me. The system needs chaos to survive. And also chaos needs the system to exist. We need to find the balance to open the door to the bizarre. It’s hard to exist when you’re different. For this project to exist, it was the main reason. The paradox is that it’s because you are different, you’re going to exist.

What were some of the challenges adapting this novel?

This was my first adaptation. I used my own ideas. That was a bit odd for me to have the vision at the beginning – that it was maybe too close to the book. I had read before that Truffaut said, “Adapting is betraying.” Maybe I would’ve saved time if I had read that before. I was too close to the first materials, to keep what is good. And it wasn’t a good solution. Discussing with Guillaume and Marc, encouraged me to do this, and also I wanted to start over – to keep only what engaged me with the project and start to rebuild another story as it’s coming from my universe. Of course there’s a lot of the book still in the film, but it wasn’t foolish to start from scratch. I had to build the character of Naoufel around the hand. It’s all about sensibilities and sensor-reality. The sensorial approach where he’s recalling sounds from his childhood and the hand’s sensorial, tactical approach to the world. Reconnecting through sounds. The fly was not in the book. I needed my film to have, even if it’s not for the spectator’s use, the symbolism of the fly is a type of architecture to consolidate my script and take freedom. The fly is a symbol of destiny – and it’s all about destiny. How you catch it. I like to put that in the film without being too obvious.

You used both 2D and CG animation on this. I’m curious if you chose 2D to get more expression out of the hand since CG can have some limitations?

Yeah. All of it is animated in CG behind the drawing. Even the set, the building, the house – those are all CG. The hand is animated in CG, but I decided to have it be not a heavy process – very limited geometry, don’t push a lot of the CG to have the shape. We did part of the way with CG and the rest with hand-drawn animators draw on the CG with the same software. I discovered this software just before the production started. We moved the pipeline two months before entering the production because of what I discovered. I did tests that were working. The software allowed the animators to draw upon the CG to keep the movements in CG, but the layer would follow. It’s much more efficient and you can save time in the rotoscoping process.

You’re right when you said that about CG. I don’t like how in CG movies when everything is clean. I need something I can believe and feel the fragility, humanity. CG killed all that, you know. Economically speaking it’s possible to do a render in real CG, but it’s a mess and I didn’t want to go that way. What’s magical with drawing is you can improve and increase – or not – in a picture. It can be really pictoral, if you want it to be. Drawing is more static. Only human intervention can decide what kind of style. The computer will do it always the same way.

Naoufel’s hand in I LOST MY BODY. Courtesy of Netflix.

The hand has a personality and character traits as this extension of Naoufel. It’s got a mole and you use that to create character.

It’s coming from me. I was drawing and looking back on my childhood and my mole and I had tried to erase it and remove it. It really makes my hand unique. I wanted to put this inside the film because I needed to connect the severed hand with Naoufel when it wasn’t attached.

Was there a significance as to which hand he lost?

Not as much. That was in the book. In the book, it was talking, explaining in relation to the hand and his body. The hand was talking about the other hand – that it felt better than the other hand. It was a double struggle about ambition – what the one hand can do and not the other. But when you don’t make the hand talk because you want to stay in the world of silence, you can not tell so much. You have to tell sensor-reality to focus on the main things of childhood.

You represent the POV of the hand with the camera even though he doesn’t have eyes. He still manages to get around.

Yeah. It’s the magic of cinema. The challenge for me was that I believe cinema can do magic and I was not very scared, thinking about “Is the hand watching and seeing us?” We can see and believe without asking why.

Was there more trouble the hand got mixed up in that you cut?

In the book, the hand spends a lot of time with the blind guy and the dog and the baby. It started relation with them. But me, I had to keep the line and the quest really obvious – that it wants to reach its boy and nothing else. It’s not going to leave for two days with the baby and then go back to his objective. I had to be really obvious about that.

Was there a trick to balancing out all these tones of poignancy, nostalgia, comedy and slight horror elements?

The concept of the film legitimized the mix of genre. I’m talking about the destiny of a child. I’m talking about destiny with action of the hand. So I have to tell the story of a journey of the hand with little action. I have to go bigger scale with Naoufel and Gabrielle, which is very romantic when time is not going at the same speed. I also have to deal with the biggest element, which is destiny. All these are trying to find a place.

What sort of direction did you give Dan Levy to guide the score?

First, I was focused on the fact that music can bring modernity to a film. I chose classical modern, not trendy. I didn’t want to choose fashion because it would be out of fashion before it was in fashion. I wanted something classical, but without much aesthetic research. A drawing of reality. I knew that the music had to be modern as editing. I wanted him to use electronic sound design to his music so he could have that conversation and mix his music, but it’s not music anymore. It’s sound design. The music is disappearing into the sound design like it disappears into the city and reappears later. The second thing was I wanted the music to bring a daily situation to life into something cosmic and mystical. To grab the audience.

What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

I hope people will maybe be able to look inside themselves and to feel. It’s a very universal feeling that something inside us is missing. We all try to find this missing part. This missing part is sometimes the childhood. We have to try to be a better version of ourselves. I can help bring people to their own path both with the external point of view and the internal with the hand.

I LOST MY BODY streams on Netflix beginning on November 15.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.