126: The Girl Without Hands Review

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Warning/Heads up: There will be scenes of female nudity, blood, violence, and dark themes. I mean, it’s a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, what do you expect? Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

The common complaint I see about animated features these days, is that there is no variety. To a degree, that is true and especially true if you do not follow the other side of animation. It seems like it’s all CGI, with no room for action or drama-focused animated films. They all have to be comedies, and every studio has to have some kind of Pixar/Disney look to them, before they actually branch out with their own visual identity. I think the last time there was some truly diverse options among the mainstream animation scene was 2000. In the year 2000, we had Chicken Run a stop-motion flick, The Emperor’s New Groove, 2D, The Road to El Dorado, 2D that uses some CGI, Fantasia 2000, which had a mix to the overall experience, and you get the idea. By 2001, when the Oscars decided to let the animated features get their time in the sun, the first three nominees were all CGI flicks. Sure, if you look past the mainstream today, there is plenty of variety in terms of writing, stories, characters, and animation styles, but that’s not always going to be the case, and most filmgoers won’t know about films like The Girl Without Hands. Directed by Sébastien Laudenbach, and based on the Brothers Grimm tale, The Girl Without Hands is a 2D animated feature that caught a lot of traction, because it was mostly done by one person. Of course, multiple people helped out with voice work, editing, and so on, but Sébastien Laudenbach did a mass majority of the work. While on the short side at 76 minutes, it won critical acclaim, and stands out as one of the 2010’s most unique films on a visual level. Let’s jump into this atmospheric film, and check it out!

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The plot pretty much follows the original story. A farmer and his family is about to starve, because they were unable to grow crops and water. The father of the family ends up meeting this shady and not-at-all suspicious individual, who offers him and his family riches. In return, the individual wanted the farmer’s daughter. Of course, after making the deal and making his family rich, the individual that made them so turns out to be the devil. The daughter, of course, declines the offer to be his bride. When push comes to shove, the devil decides to take her hands. I won’t go into much detail after that.

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The story itself is rather bare bones, to say the least. It’s not super complex with underlying themes of some sort, or any obvious ones, but still. However, where that could be a problem with a lesser film, the simple and to-the-point narrative of The Girl Without Hands really fits. Like I said, the film is only 76-minutes long, but you can tell the story does not waste time or feel padded as it tells this dark fairy tale story. It’s also a very quiet movie, with most of the music only coming in at specific moments. The rest is mostly ambient noise from nature, until the characters decide to speak. It brings this tense atmosphere whenever the devil decides to drop in, or a peaceful moment in time when it’s focusing on the girl. Even with the minimalist story, you are able to follow the motivation of the characters. I even like that it doesn’t try to be realistic. It’s a fairy tale, and it’s going to have the logic of a fairy tale. Do not try to bring logical complaints into this film.

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It’s very easy to follow this film, and that’s helpful, due to the concern of the film’s biggest reason to be seen, the animation. The Girl Without Hands has some of the most interesting animation from a film released last year. It’s a film that’s fun to show off in stills, but even more visually interesting when you watch it in motion. With all the high polished animation out there, seeing this film’s minimal brush strokes and simple outlines were a limitation, but also a very effective way to tell the film’s story. It brings this fantastical, if ominous vibe to the story. It feels other-worldly. Yet, there is this beauty to it. It’s very smooth and very expressive with how the characters move. It’s especially fun to see the animation used for the devil character and his shapeshifting. It has a lot of empty space in every frame, but that’s the point in this dreamlike tale. The voice cast is also pretty good at portraying their minimalist-made characters. It’s a case of there being no dub, but I think a dub wouldn’t really add much to the experience. No celebrity or famous voice actors would bring much. Granted, I know some people, including me, would rather have a dub, but this is one of the few cases where I’m fine with there not being one. The actors do a good job, and bring a lot of emotion and life into the film.

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My only real nitpick is that it’s sometimes hard to see what exactly you are looking at, but for the most part, the minimal style translates very well to the screen. Honestly, all I have for complaints are nitpicks. I kind of wish there was a dub, just so I wouldn’t have to read subtitles. It would also let people be able to focus on the beautiful artwork instead of having to train their brain to follow both the subtitles and the story. I also felt like the ending, while satisfying, was a bit confusing at the very last bit, in terms of exactly knowing what happened. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s “abstract” to say the least.

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The Girl Without Hands is a truly unique and a one-of-a kind animated film. It’s an animated feature everyone should check out, and one I highly recommend purchasing. Sure, it has no dub, but I think the beautiful art work and fairy tale-like story will be strong enough to keep you invested into the 76-minute runtime. Our next film is one that I have wanted to talk about for a while, but now I have to, with the sad passing of Isao Takahata. The next review will be of what I considered to be his best film that I have seen, Only Yesterday. Thanks for reading this review! I hope you enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials