By Jake Watt
17th August 2018

The new French animated film, ‘The Girl Without Hands’, is based on a lesser-known Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name ('Das Mädchen ohne Hände'). On a similarly fantastical note, it was directed, written, edited, and animated by Sébastien Laudenbach in his feature debut; incredibly, Laudenbach animated the entire film on his own.

The Devil (voiced by the director’s father, Philippe Laudenbach), in the form of an old man, appears to a starving miller (Olivier Broche) and offers to make him rich if he sells him “what is behind your mill”. The miller returns home to find liquid gold flowing through his mill, but discovers that his daughter (Anaïs Demoustier) had been behind the mill, playing in an apple tree. After years of luxury, the Devil reappears to collect the young girl, but finds her too pure and clean to take. He orders the family to confine the young girl to the apple tree, away from soap and water, guarded by dogs which then maul her mother to death when she tries to help her. When the Devil returns (this time, in the form of a gleeful child) he finds that the young girl had kept her hands clean with her tears. He angrily orders the miller to cut off her hands … and so begins her hero’s journey, as she travels the countryside to escape her inhuman pursuer. But in spite of her resilience and the protection of a handsome prince’s estate, the Devil devises a plan of his own.


Laudenbach drew ‘The Girl Without Hands’ using only black and grey pencils, working on paper layers, one for each color. When he shot the drawings, one by one, he composited them on a computer, and turned black and grey layers into colors, which he then tinted.

The result is striking, and quite different from other "painterly" animated films like 'Loving Vincent' or 'In This Corner of the World'. Characters have been rendered in a few brushstrokes, in an extremely minimalist style, moving against watercolour-style backgrounds that wash and morph as the story dictates. The simplicity of the art style works in tandem with sound effects to convey physicality - for example, the line drawing of a character breaks apart on an tired exhalation, only to reform on a deep inhalation.

The simplicity of the art style works in tandem with sound effects to convey physicality - for example, the line drawing of a character breaks apart on an tired exhalation, only to reform on a deep inhalation.

With an ethereal score from Olivier Mellano that flows from to tranquil to menacing (slightly reminiscent of 'In A Heartbeat' by John Murphy), and the deep, dark, dream logic of the Grimm fable upon which it is based, ’The Girl Without Hands’ is unlike any adult animated film you have seen before.

Looking for more Melbourne International Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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