Very few animated features are allowed to even attempt the kind of emotional scope of Netflix’s I Lost My Body. But the fact that this little French indie was nominated for a 2020 Best Animated Feature Oscar over a behemoth like Disney’s Frozen II is testament to the success of its ambitions.
The animated feature category is far from the most high profile of the Oscars. To be fair, it’s hard to take any category that nominates 2018’s Boss Baby for an Academy Award seriously.
But entries like I Lost My Body are sure to challenge the prejudices that some film snobs still hold against recognizing the artistry of movies that aren’t live-action.
The conceit of I Lost My Body is simple, if at first hard to wrap your mind around. The films has, in essence, two protagonists: a young boy named Naoufel pursuing a girl he falls in love with, and a sentient disembodied hand that wanders the streets of Paris.
But really everything is alive in I Lost My Body, both literally and figuratively.
The film goes to painstaking lengths to show viewers the tragic yet beautiful journeys of all things in this world, whether alive, inanimate, or dissected. You might even say those two main point of view “characters” (a boy, and a detached hand) also share the role of protagonist with a fly, the three perspectives interlinked throughout the movie with motifs and a story that slowly reveals itself.
Everything is alive in I Lost My Body, both literally and figuratively.
That’s one of I Lost My Body‘s greatest strengths. It makes you see the inextricable connections between even the most disparate, disjointed things. During black-and-white flashback montages, seemingly unrelated vignettes cut together in quick succession crescendo into “aha” moments, as you realize exactly what connects them all.
For example: A fly lands on young Naoufel’s hand as he grips an astronaut action figure, followed by a model of a globe spinning on its axis, before jumping back to his hand gripping a microphone this time, holding it up to a swarm of flies to capture their sound. The spinning globe returns, only for it to become the view of trees outside a car window as it spins out of control, another fly landing on the microphone strewn amid the debris of a car crash. Finally, the fly is back on young Naoufel’s hand, but now it’s bandaged from the crash, and he stands before a grave site.
I Lost My Body can explore incomprehensibly vast expanses of life in the span of a minute-long montage. On the other hand, it spends fifteen slow-moving minutes on a scene that is, essentially, the journey of a failed pizza delivery.
This distorted pacing is layered with a similarly warped approach to scale. In a matter of seconds, you jump from a bird’s-eye view of plane, to a POV shot of Naoufel watching the fly Inch towards his hand, before finally seeing from the fly’s perspective — its entire world consisting of Naoufel’s fingernail.
The result is a movie with an unmatched sense of awe, where you marvel at not just the vastness of our world but also its unstoppable inertia. It’s an Earth teeming with more life than we can conceive of, and it’s all happening at once, on a globe that never stops spinning on its axis.
Your own body becomes foreign, along with the concepts of time, space, and matter.
I Lost My Body imbues every one of its “protagonists” (whether alive, dissected, or insect) with all the humanity that filmmaking can offer its subjects, each getting its own tight close ups, POV shots, soaring scores, and story arcs. But by contrast, the world itself seems to treat them with unfeeling coldness, objectifying and dehumanizing them at every turn. At one point, Naoufel is surprised someone shows more concern for his well-being than the pizza he was supposed to deliver after they both get struck by a car.
As the title implies, I Lost My Body captures those defining moments in life when your soul feels like it leaves your body. You watch from above, witnessing an event that changes the trajectory of your life as if it’s happening to a stranger. Your own body becomes foreign, along with the concepts of time, space, and matter.
There’s a lot going against I Lost My Body, since it has to overcome prejudices on both sides.
Some film snobs won’t see its accomplishments as being on par with any live-action Oscar nominees. But also, it’s a bit of hard sell for the layperson animation fan initially, too. Despite hearing its praises sung again and again, I myself felt an aversion to it at first, put off by its uniquely Parisian brand of artsy angst that makes me roll my eyes regardless of genre.
But whenever I Lost My Body teeters one the edge of using one too many melodramatic jump cuts, it always miraculously justifies the weight of its own self-seriousness.
In all likelihood, I Lost My Body won’t win the 2020 Oscar in a year when it’s up against a crowning champion like Pixar with Toy Story 4. But let’s be real, the best films rarely win the Oscar anyway.
I Lost My Body is now streaming on Netflix.