Wednesday, January 29, 2020

I Lost My Body Makes Great Use of A Determined Animated Hand

Today I declare a new term when discussing cinema. The term shall henceforth be known as Ad Astra Syndrome, a condition wherein a movie is predominately quiet & thoughtful but has brief digressions into extremely over-the-top action sequences. Ad Astra isn't the only example of this phenomenon but it being a movie heavily preoccupied with wistful Brad Pitt voice-over that occasionally pauses for lunar buggie shoot-out's and a violent space primate makes it a perfect example of this trait. I also want to emphasize that this is Syndrome isn't an inherently bad thing. On the contrary, partly why I liked Ad Astra so much was that it had the audacity to occasionally dip its toes into more sensational waters.

I Lost My Body, an animated feature recently nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, is another great example of a movie that has Ad Astra Syndrome, with its central storyline concerning flashbacks to Naoufel (Hakim Faris), which are usually told in a restrained manner with a heavy emphasis on quiet contemplative dialogue. Naoufel has had a rough go of things in his life between his parents dying in a gruesome car crash at an early age and him now being stuck in a dead-end pizza delivery job. At least the gig led to delivering a crushed pizza to a customer named Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois). The two end up talking for a while and Naoufel becomes romantically infatuated with Gabrielle, to the point that he ends up following her to her job (pulling an Amazing Spider-Man 2 I see). There, he fakes a new persona to score a job working for an elderly carpenter just so he spends more time with Gabrielle.

These sequences concerning Naoufel are just one part of I Lost My Body, with another equally important plotline taking place further into the future after Naoufel has lost his hand in some kind of accident. Naturally, this means Naoufel's disembodied hand becomes sentient and ends up going on a journey to return to Naoufel that takes the hand from a hospital fridge to a subway station to the top of a building and everything in between. The juxtaposition between the primary Naoufel flashbacks and parts of the storyline involving his hand are where Ad Astra Syndrome come into play. One minute, Naoufel and Gabrielle could be having a quiet conversation about The World According to Garp in a library, the next Naoufel's hand is engaged in a vicious tussle with a pigeon.

Though it's easy to many of the sequences concerning Naoufel's personal struggle being translated to live-action with no trouble, I Lost My Body's script by Jeremy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant (the former of the duo also directs the movie) creates plenty of other sequences that could only be properly realized through animation. Surreal dream sequences that reflect Naoufel's interior angst over the death of his parents, for instance, make use of some great heightened visual symbolizers for different parts of the protagonist's psyche. A nice visual detail is how certain flashbacks to Naoufel's childhood are animated with stiffer movements and less frames that come off as reminiscent of storyboard animation.

Of course, anything involving Naoufel's disembodied hand makes perfect use of the wonders of animation. Eschewing dialogue altogether in these sequences, I Lost My Body truly impresses on a visual level in these segments, particularly in how it anthropomorphizes the hand without resorting to cheap shortcuts like giving it eyes or a mouth. Early on, there's a moment where the hand avoids a close brush with death and it contorts its body in a manner that's able to impressively echo the body language of a human being bending over to catch their breath. That hand really does bring out some sublime imaginative design work in the hand-drawn animation of I Lost My Body and such visuals help to make scenes where the hand is trying to navigate this treacherous oversized exceedingly engrossing.

The flashbacks involving Naoufel and his troubled life, meanwhile, are a step down from those wondrous scenes dedicated to a determined hand. This is mostly because the heavily thoughtful atmosphere of these sequences is centered on a romance that's hard to get invested in due to the creepy behavior of Naoufel. I Lost My Body is contemplates plenty of matters related to existence and how we move on from trauma but it somehow doesn't find time to contemplate if the Naoufel stalking Gabrielle doesn't kick off one of the central facets of the plot (Naoufel and Gabrielle's romance) on the wrong note. On the other hand (no pun intended), Naoufel's storyline does have its fair share of effective quiet sequences, including one where he listens to a recording of his final conversation with his parents. Though not devoid of its own issues, I Lost My Body does make great use of both the unique advantages of the medium of animation as well as Ad Astra Syndrome TM.

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