Of course, there have been crawling hand stories before – most notably, The Beast With Five Fingers (which, oddly, has never been remade) and The Hand, but also with a comic twist in Idle Hands and (in the person of Thing) the Addams Family. This French cartoon can’t help but evoke those, though the nods it makes are to literature, checking de Maupassant and John Irving (who both wrote severed hand stories, Le Main and The Fourth Hand). Directed by Jeremy Clapin, who co-wrote with Guillaume Laurant (author of the source novel), it’s a highly-wrought, richly-imagined piece which touches on a great many things and goes through an emotional wringer in flashbacks as the hand copes with Paris on a purely physical level.
Coming to life, inexplicably, inside a plastic bag in a medical laboratory, the hand escapes and makes its way across town, fighting off rats, ants and a guide dog (nodding to the often-referenced severed-hand-in-dog-mouth moment from Yojimbo) and adverse weather conditions even as it seems to remember (muscle memory?) the life of its owner, Naoufel (voiced by Hakim Faris). We get a fragmentary biography of the young man, from his Moroccan childhood and loss of caring parents to a spell as a glum, inept pizza deliverer rooming with his dour uncle and obnoxious cousin. An odd encounter with Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois), a librarian who lives on the 34th floor and doesn’t get her pizza, prompts Naoufel to sleuth her out and – frankly – stalk her, striking up an acquaintance and becoming an apprentice to her aged carpenter uncle (Patrick d’Assumcao), which turns out to be unexpectedly rewarding and takes him off on a whimsical side project (building a wooden igloo). Of course, this is all leading to dismemberment – we get several teases, mostly involving carpentry instruments, before the set of circumstances, rooted in childhood memory and current dilemma, lead to the severing … which still leaves questions to be answered about the ultimate fate of hand and owner and those around them.
The film is very committed to ambiguities, frequently asking us to understand different points of view … on the one hand, Naoufel is a yearning romantic with frustrated ambitions (concert pianist or astronaut) … on the other, he has projected a lot on the girl, and his underhand (!) courtship of her is ill-advised at best, so we fully get how she feels when she finds out that he’s the pizza guy she talked with that one time. It has a BD look, with a lot of telling detail and meticulous backgrounds – it’s set in the mid-90s, and old tech (an audio cassette recorder) is a key prop. Arguably, Naoufel has lost his life before he loses his hand – he is innocently culpable in the car accident that kills his loving parents – and the assumptions made about him in Paris further marginalise him … even losing his hand is essentially his fault, but the part of him which is cut off proves persistent at clawing its way back. You’d be surprised how affected you can be by the dreams and desires of a crawling hand.