An Oscar-nominated screenwriter known for such films as The City of Lost Children and Amélie, Guillaume Laurant found an exciting introduction to the world of animation in Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body.
The first animated film to win the Cannes Film Festival’s Nespresso Grand Prize, the imaginative, romantic and surreal Netflix pic follows a severed hand as it escapes from a dissection lab, embarking on a journey through Paris to reconnect with its body.
Written by Laurant and Clapin, the film is an adaptation of Laurant’s 2006 novel, Happy Hand. “This novel was meant as a counterpoint to the first novel I had written, which was a very personal one,” Laurant tells Deadline. “It’s based on what the French writer Marcel Aymé did, in terms of having a fantastic element that is introduced in a very real setting.”
An inventor of spectacular fables, Laurant had been told since the publication of Happy Hand that the novel would be impossible to adapt into a film. “It took 10 years for an animation producer to reach out and tell me, ‘You know what? If we use an animation approach, your book could be adaptable.’ I hadn’t even imagined how this idea of the hand could be transposed in visual terms,” the screenwriter says. “The risk could be to have something that ended up being very gory, like a B movie, and I didn’t want that, so we really did need this component of animation, in order to be able to take this story and do a filmic transposition of it.”
Pairing with Clapin and producer Marc du Pontavice on the animated film, Laurant found the process fascinating—first of all, because this was the first time he would attempt an adaptation of his own prose.
Secondly, there was the fact that the writing process on an animated feature is markedly different from the one he was used to on live-action features. “As a process, it’s much longer. You basically work at the same time on the script, as you do production. There aren’t separate stages, so I was present to a much greater extent at the beginning of this,” the writer notes.
“What we needed to do at the onset was solving the issue of the axis. By that, I mean that in the novel, you have two points of view that run parallel. So, you have the story as seen by the hand, but also by the body, and they are developed alongside each other. This was impossible to do in the movie, and therefore it took quite some time for Jérémy to understand how to work this out,” Laurant adds. “Eventually, what we ended up doing was using the point of view of the hand in dealing with everything. I would say that this would be the most complex challenge we had to face.”
In reconceiving Happy Hand as a feature, Laurant had to figure out how to take what he’d done in the novel onto the screen—lending a sense of emotion and sentience to the disembodied hand, which would serve as the film’s main character. Without the ability to say a word, the hand would communicate through movements worked out, as Laurant and Clapin re-examined the original story, beat by beat.
The other great challenge on I Lost My Body was to support Clapin, giving him the encouragement he needed to put his own stamp on the story. “It was going to be his first feature film, so he had an approach, which was more doubt-filled and empirical,” Laurant explains. “Before, he had only made short films, based on stories that he had written, so it was the first time that he was working on a story that was not his own. It took quite some time for him to make it his own.”
While I Lost My Body was devised as an open-ended fable, what Laurant hoped to craft, in the end, was a story about the quest for oneself—a meditation on lost childhood, the parts missing from all of us, and how we go about living our lives in their absence. “What we need to do is somehow overcome the grief of not having this part, so that through grief, we can eventually get to be ourselves, in spite of this missing part. In a way, this applies to childhood, and if we go back to other scripts I’ve written, they often go back to this feeling of childhood. I feel it’s all connected,” the screenwriter reflects.
“I feel that over time, childhood is something that needs to be separated from us, [but] somehow, childhood is something that is still within all of us. We long for it, and we need to find a way to overcome it, realizing that it is no longer with us,” he adds. “Just like people who’ve had a limb cut off often feel that they can still move their fingers, all of us can still feel that childhood is with us, and we need to somehow overcome this longing.”
Watching I Lost My Body come to life on screen, Laurant was taken aback. “It’s not often, as a writer, that you get to be completely surprised by the filmic transposition of something that you’ve written. In this case, when I was watching it, I completely forgot that I was at the origin of the story. I was completely involved in the story as such, and was so taken by the images that I was brought to a new dimension,” the screenwriter shares. “I found the mise-en-scène brilliant. I thought it was organic and full of feeling, and it really touched people, or me in particular—not in a cerebral way, but in a way that was very profound, that came from inside you.”
For Laurant, the experience of crafting a world tailored for animation was equally profound. An imaginative visual thinker, the screenwriter recognized while working on this project that his love of creating new worlds through the words he puts on the page makes him a perfect fit for a medium he had never before considered working in.
“It was a true discovery for me. I believe that in traditional, [live-action] cinema, we have a hard time creating stories that are detached from reality, and from the difficulty and heaviness of everyday reality,” he says. “Whereas when we switch to animation, we are immediately immersed in a new world. This new world allows us to be very detached, and to create anything we want.”
Since working on I Lost My Body, Laurant has been met with a number of proposals to write scripts for other animated movies, committing already to return to this domain with another film. “I was asked to write an epic film, revolving around the Silk Road. It spans over thousands of years, and the protagonist is going to be a 13-year-old girl. As I have been doing this, I have come to realize what a great amount of freedom the form of animation allows one,” the writer reflects. “While I came to animation quite late, it is something that I intend to spend a good amount of time with in the future.”