For the past 10 years, small European studios and animators have produced some of the most innovative and beautiful animation. Films from Song of the Sea to Persepolis to A Cat in Paris are some of the best animation can produce. This year, we have another strong entry called The Girl Without Hands. It is being distributed by GKIDS and is worth hunting down if you can find it anywhere near you.
The Girl Without Hands is based on a lesser-known Grimm Brothers’ tale about a girl who is cursed when her shortsighted father sells her to the Devil for unlimited wealth. As one might expect, the Devil is not kind to her and takes away her hands, meddles with her marriage and tries everything he can to break her spirit. Director Sébastien Laudenbach has created an artistically bold animated fairytale for adults that is like nothing else I’ve ever seen before.
First, we must talk about the animation. It’s so amazing that we still have films made by individuals like Sébastien Laudenbach, Signe Baumane, and Bill Plympton. Laudenbach not only directed The Girl Without Hands but did the writing, editing, and animation. The style of the animation uniquely layers watercolor and a sketchy style for a beautiful flowing effect. It feels like you are swimming with the story. I included the trailer above because I think it is best to witness the way the animation moves rather than see only still images. It’s a stunning use of color and movement, similar to The Tale of Princess Kaguya from Isao Takahata.
The story can be quite violent but you never lose the purity of the lead character, and the line between good and evil never gets muddled. It reminded me of the Old Testament story of Job. The Devil here appears as a raven and a pig, and tries all he can to break the girl, but he cannot. In one particularly moving scene, she plants a garden for her son with her arms bleeding into the soil. In fact, she is such a pure character, the devil can’t take possession of her the way he would like, which frustrates him greatly.
The music by Oliver Mellano is also really surprising for the film. Going into it, I was expecting something like the amazing operatic score we got in The Red Turtle but this has more of an alternative rock feel to it. This works so well with the intensity of the story and the way the images flow together. There is even a cool song called “Wild Girl” sung by Laetitia Shériff. It’s honestly one of my favorite scores of the year.
Even though it is in French and I had to read subtitles, I really liked all of the voice acting for the characters. It felt like normal people talking which is refreshing in days of unnecessary distracting celebrity voices in most animated films. The sound design is also excellent, which is key in helping immerse you in such an abstract art style. We know she is in water because we hear the water even if it is merely streaks of blue on the screen.
As I said, this is an animated film for mature audiences but none of the adult content is vulgar or unseemly. Most of the nudity and violence is a natural part of life, or at least this life, such as the blood from her arms or the pain of having a baby. She is a character that is very close to nature and the animation moves her through water and trees, and eventually a River Goddess even assists her to safety. The film isn’t preachy about nature. It’s just part of the fiber of the story.
I am sure there are a lot of people who are turned off by this type of “artsy” film but hopefully a few of you will be intrigued and seek it out. I am certainly grateful for artists like Sébastien Laudenbach for reminding me that animation is still art and it can still be made by one man painting a story.
To purchase the Girl Without Hands Soundtrack Click Here
Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic that has loved animation since she was a little girl belting out songs from 'The Little Mermaid'. She reviews as many films as she can each year and loves interviewing actors, directors, and anyone with an interesting story to tell. Rachel is the founder of the popular Hallmarkies Podcast, and the Rachel's Reviews podcast/youtube channel, which covers all things animated including a monthly Talking Disney and Obscure Animation show.