Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin keeps the humour dry and tone off-kilter as a jacket-loving divorcé in Deerskin, Quentin Dupieux’s rollicking satire.
A critique of consumerism; a parable about the murky horror of moviemaking itself; a midlife crisis caper; a meta-snuff film; an exercise in absurdism. For a film running just 77 minutes, it’s rather impressive that Deerskin manages to weave so many strings into its deranged bow.
We meet Georges (Jean Dujardin) as he is flushing his cord jacket—a symbol of his fusty old life—down a service station toilet, flooding it in the process. He has split up with his wife and is driving aimlessly towards the French Alps, at a loss with what to do with his newfound loneliness. Soon, he spends €7,500 on a new jacket: a mint condition, 100% deerskin fringed beauty, which he anthropomorphises with a gravelly voice. In a surreal twist, quickly the jacket and its owner form a pact: to be the only jacket and jacket owner left on earth. Thus begins a madcap, bloody killing spree to rid the snowy town of any who dare to wear the taboo garment. In and among this is Denise (Adèle Haenel), a barmaid and wannabe film editor who teams up with Georges to capture his homicidal capers and turn them into a motion picture.
The humour here is very Dupieux-esque, but decidedly Lynchian too. The logging aesthetic of suede, wood and plaid, as well as a rather disquieting use of a ceiling fan, are straight out of Twin Peaks—as is the eerie rural surrealism. But there are endless references to other films too, like a nod to Patrick Bateman’s transparent anorak in American Psycho. The tone is wry: Dujardin’s performance is dialled back yet brilliantly demented, finding humour in the simplicity of a squeaking door or uncool French slang he’s far too old to be using. Dupieux’s aloof directorial style is contrasted with warm visuals: suede accents and soft edges that plunge us straight into Georges’ fetishistic fantasy world.
With the running joke being that Georges is pretending to be a filmmaker to extort money from Denise, Dupieux makes an implicit statement about the absurdity of filmmaking as a practise, and perhaps even the toxic men that continue to gatekeep in the industry. As Georges stares at himself in the mirror, admiring his paunch and too-small jacket, the layers peel back to Dupieux himself flexing at the audience with meta-comedy: it’s the cinematic version of a midlife crisis. Haenel is certainly in on the elaborate joke, bringing her trademark stoicism to the tongue-in-cheek proceedings. Denise’s suggestion that the jacket is a symbolic shell against a harsh outer world is particularly funny. But then Dupieux pulls you back out in other small ways: a hotel employee’s suicide, for instance, is brushed off with such brazenly cruel casualness that the resultant visual gag feels deeply uncomfortable.
It’s difficult to wrangle out the film’s meaning when it zips by in such a short time, but Deerskin’s ephemeral nature is to its benefit: it’s a demented, Dadaist ditty that doesn’t hold itself too seriously. Whether or not it will connect with the average cinemagoer is yet to be seen, but appreciators of black comedy will find plenty to love.
Words by Steph Green
Deerskin will be released in UK cinemas on 16 July, 2021.
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