I JUST SAW…The Girl Without Hands (France, 2016)

For me, there’s no better feeling than coming across a movie you’ve never even heard of and falling in love with it. This is exactly what happened to me with La jeune fille sans mains (appropriately translated to The Girl Without Hands), which I discovered literally by chance as I was browsing Google in search of a completely different movie for a friend.

The Girl Without Hands, directed by acclaimed French artist Sébastien Laudenbach, premiered at The Cannes Film Festival back in 2016 and had a limited theatrical release in the United States the year after. This film is quite a unique feature on my website: it’s the very first animated horror movie I review. Though there are quite a few remarkable examples of animated horror features, such as the highly disturbing Where the Dead Go to Die, the artsy Perfect Blue, the action-packed Blood: The Last Vampire and the unsettling Dante’s Inferno.

The Girl Without Hands, however, sets itself apart from the aforementioned bunch of movies as a unique piece of art. The story, which is based on one of the fairy tales assembled by The Brothers Grimm in the 1800s, follows a young and pure girl, the daughter of a miller who’s struggling with money. As the devil appears to him, the miller is offered a bag of gold in exchange for his daughter: the miller accepts the offer, but the devil can’t take the girl with him, since she’s too innocent to go to hell. Instead, the devil demands only the girl’s hands, which are cut off by her own father in a very unsettling sequence: with no hands nor trust in her family, the girl runs away from home and embarks on a long, dark journey to reach the light.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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As I said, this French art-house film is really unique, firstly in terms of presentation. At first sight, the 2-dimensional and minimalist style of animation might appear lazy and out-of-date to many; however, it hides a complexity that truly makes it remarkable. First of all, the animation is achieved through the use of watercolours, making the movie look like a late 19th century painting in motion. The way characters and objects are drawn makes them seem oneiric and devoid of any physical weight, with the lines appearing and disappearing at every moment or breath from one of the protagonists. This unconventional style of animation makes the overall film extremely surreal and dreamlike, which leads to scenes as potent as those from a half-remembered dream: you are not sure about what you just witnessed, but it sticks with you on a deeper level nonetheless.

The apparent simplicity is also revealed as masterful craft when paying attention to the sound editing, which is the most perfect aspect of the movie (alongside the animation itself): every human, natural or demonic noise in the film is perfectly accompanied by a brush stroke, in such a way that makes visuals and sounds flow seamlessly together.

Girl Without Hands feature 1For horror fans who’re on the lookout for unique movies, The Girl Without Hands presents many satisfactory moments: it starts off rather idyllic and beautifully quiet, but it soon becomes very violent, unsettling and disturbing. Aside from the “cutting hands with an axe” moment, this film also features sexual abuse (handled very tastefully), demonic assaults and horrific imagery connected to sex and death. Even though I thought they were completely unnecessary, this animated picture also relies on a couple of jump-scares that will likely please more traditional horror fans.

Aside from its presentation, technical features and spooky moments (all of which works extremely well), The Girl Without Hands is a thematically rich and multi-layered film. The movie tackles subjects such as female innocence threatened by external forces, patriarchy, contrast between frugal life and thirst for money.

Forgiving the few out of place jump-scares, this film has only one other flaw: the narrative. Specifically, the movie has a literally flawless visual narrative with little dialogue, but every time the characters speak to each other it seems like they’re telling the audience how they should feel and what’s going on, in case they were lost. This reliance on exposition, which comes from underestimating the audience more than laziness, could have been fixed in two ways: the filmmakers could’ve made an entirely silent movie (and I think this would’ve been the best choice) or they should’ve added more dialogue to develop the characters more in-depth. This way, the exposition-driven dialogue would’ve seemed more integral to the story and its protagonists.

In conclusion, The Girl Without Hands is a surreal, beautiful and brutal tale that I absolutely adore. The presentation of this film is nearly flawless, and the unique style makes it a viewing experience that probably has no comparisons. I, however, wouldn’t recommend it to everybody: unless you’re into abstract and experimental filmmaking, you’re likely not to enjoy this masterful film. For everyone else: seek it out and watch it as soon as possible!

The Girl Without Hands                   9/10    

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