Netflix continues amassing high-quality foreign content amidst streaming wars, the latest being the French animated tale I Lost My Body (J’ai perdu mon corps). Premiering on the streaming service on November 15th after a successful run on the festival circuit, the film follows a hand on its journey to reunite with its body. It may sound somewhat grotesque, but it’s closer to a fairy tale or a love letter than a scene out of the Addams Family.
Director Jeremy Clapin shared some of his creative process in an exclusive interview with Screen Rant, as well as the importance of animation in general and in the story of Naoufel and his hand specifically.
I Lost My Body is your first feature-length film as well as your first time adapting someone's work. What was that experience like for you, and do you want to repeat it?
Jeremy Clapin: Yes. In fact, coming from short films, I didn't plan to go into the feature film territory. Why? Because I thought I will lose a lot of the freedom I have in my short films. I don't like to make cinema with industry and marketing constraints; I love cinema because I'm free.
But in 2011, I met my producer Mark, and he wanted me to make an animated feature film. He offered me a lot of freedom to do it and was involved very in the process with me, but only talking about artistic creative things in cinema. So, it was close to my short film approach.
And the other thing I have to deal with, because this is a feature film, is the process of the industry; how to make the picture. It’s not the same process when you work alone on a film; you have to work with a team and have a pipeline. I was careful to keep it in my hands. I had to find good tools to be really involved in the technique of the film, to not lose the way I wanted to direct and not lose my power. To not lose the film.
That's why I had to find this kind of new technique, with a blend that allows me to be close to live action. I had a real camera, but the character was animated and CG to keep the model tangible. It had to have a realistic perspective. I also wanted the final aspect to be like drawing a picture or a painting, something really not CG. In fact, real animators would redraw upon the CG.
I had to deal to how make the industry world and the auteur, me, capable of working together. It's not so easy at the beginning, because the industry will want to do things in the way they want to do things. And me, I want to keep control of that. We have to find good dialogue, and we cannot find this dialogue if the producer is not with the writer.
And speaking of that dialogue, the soundscape in I Lost My Body is seamless, connecting the journey of the hand to that of Naoufel throughout. What kind of dialogue do you have with the sound team and how did you decide to tell then hand’s story through its surroundings?
Jeremy Clapin: I knew that this is a point of view film. So visually, it's like the Incredible Shrinking Man. We have to feel tiny; we have to reproduce that to exalt this perspective. The angle low; the camera rigs close to the floor. Also, the sound has in the point of view of the hand.
Of course, the hand is hearing nothing, but this is the magic of cinema. We can imagine the hand is listening to the world in a very different way than us. So, the scream of rats is like a monster; the subway is a really huge noise. All that is close to the hand will be really loud, and we forget a lot of what is what is far from the hand. There is no context anymore, there is only what the hand can touch; only proximity to the hand.
So, we have to be really careful with the sound. The sound illustrates the tactical relation of the hand to the world, because what the hand touches is felt through the sound. And that's why Naoufel’s story was that he used to record sounds. It was not in the book, but I decided to put it because it was the same sensibility. Naoufel and his hand share this kind of sensibility towards the world.
What was it about Guillaume Laurant’s original novel that most inspired you when it came to the film?
Jeremy Clapin: I think it was, obviously, the new point of view of the hand; this eruption of the fantastic into something realistic, something absurd and completely unexpected. Although it's all new, when I read the book, I was also following the hand’s separate trip through Paris.
It was not only about this part of the journey, but it brings something more metaphysical. It lets me discover the character [of Naoufel] in a new angle, which is brought by the hand. It’s a look inside the character through a tiny hole, like an external point of view and an internal point of view. I can explore themes with that, which is not so easy to do when you don't have the fantastic to help you to look at the reality.
You mentioned the synergy between the hand and Naoufel earlier. I found it fascinating that though he’s very resourceful, he's also not very physically gifted. Meanwhile, the hand is just as resourceful as Naoufel but the only way it can express that is by being very physically gifted. Was that something that you consciously thought of while writing the script?
Jeremy Clapin: Yes, because when we discovered Naoufel, he’s stuck; his life is completely without any dynamic. The hand is opposite, because it wants to struggle and wants to struggle with destiny; wants to go somewhere else. Naoufel is going in a line, without any perspective of the future, until the moment he met Gabrielle through the intercom.
This sequence helped Naoufel to head into the world again. And this contact with the world, as when he was a child, is through voice and sound. He reconnected to life and the world with the sound of this girl and, because of that, he was able to take back control of his destiny.
The film was set in such a specific time period, seeing as we had tape recorders, landlines, and phone books. Was that taken from the book, or did you want to place the story in the pre-cellphone era?
Jeremy Clapin: For me, I needed to not have the [digital] aspect of the world in this film. I wanted something more manual; definitely not where we are living today. I didn’t want the hand to call an uber or send a tweet.
I wanted there to be in a tactical aspect of things, and I thought the 90s was a good period. A frozen period that will never move, just before the digital period.
This is a story that feels like it can only be told through animation, but what is it about animation as a whole that you love so much?
Jeremy Clapin: Animation is my tool. I wanted to make film, and I was an artist at first, so animation was a good solution for me to make film. It was not my purpose to be an animator; it was really to do film.
I think this movie can be done in live action with a CG hand, but I'm definitely convinced that it won't be the same movie as I delivered. It all depends on the sensibility of the director and the tool he is using, and I think animation for this kind of story brings a little distance to reality. I’m trying to make the audience believe in my world, not only in the CG hand. And if I succeed, it's like grabbing people into a new reality I built for them. So, the experiences may be more universal yet unique.
I watched the French version, but I noticed that on the English version, Dev Patel and Alia Shawkat were the protagonists. Were you involved in the casting of voice actors in other languages, and how important do you think it is to get the essence of the character right in translation?
Jeremy Clapin: I was involved. I directed Dev Patel and Alia Shawkat, and it was really great experience. Because now, I have two original versions. No actor is the real face of my character, so there is no voice dedicated to this character.
Of course, I'm really attached to the French because, it’s something really authentic. But the American version brings the film somewhere else; brings lyricism and maybe it’s more accessible.
But I know people like the French version too, because it's really realistic. The actors I picked for the film are really close to people living in suburbs. It's not artificial. Honestly, it's a little bit rare in animation to work with characters like this. The voices weren’t post-production but were done with the shooting so it adds something really naturalistic.
I know that Netflix option the film for distribution after it was made. Would you be open to working with them from the start in the future, or do you like leaving the possibility of theatrical release?
Jeremy Clapin: Obviously, this can be a chance to have more funding for the next film, because it's really hard. It's open to discussion, but my goal is to be free again. When I do film, if I’m not free then I don’t want to do film anymore. If we can have a dialogue around that, it will be a pleasure to collaborate with Netflix.
From the beginning till now, till maybe tomorrow I hope, there are very attentive to not only me, but to the film itself and the way it’s delivered. This really is the first experience for me, and it’s great.
Do you know what your next project is going to be, or what's the next story you want to tell?
Jeremy Clapin: I have two projects in mind; one in live-action and one in animation. And I have to decide which one I’m going to lose, or which one I’m going to win. I should say it like that.
I’m curious to do live action, but I’m not committed. I love animation. Even if I do live action, I will turn to animation again. But it's a new experience, and I'm looking for something new and challenging to me in some way.
But for now, I don't have time with the promotion of the film, to clear my mind and to start writing the scripts. So for now, it’s all cooking in my head.