Premise: A man’s obsession with his designer deerskin jacket causes him to blow his life savings and turn to crime.
It’s a tale as old as time: man buys a secondhand deerskin jacket. Man falls in love with said jacket and begins talking to it as if it’s a real person. Man begins converting his entire wardrobe to 100% deerskin. Man’s jacket tells him that it’s so great that it wants to be the only jacket left in the entire world.
Deerskin, the latest from French director Quentin Dupieux, devolves even further into madness from there, but I won’t spoil the details, as one of the joys is witnessing the demented depths it reaches.
Deerskin is a sort of character study of a man clinging to whatever he can to retain any sense of control of the direction of his life. The film is minimalist in almost every facet, including the crew: Dupieux not only wrote and directed, but served as the cinematographer and editor. Clocking in at just 77 minutes, Dupieux thankfully doesn’t clog the script with unnecessary details, instead focusing on the two main characters and their misguided dreams. And yet, while the film takes some hilariously dark turns at times, you’re left wishing it could have gone down another avenue or two, to really drive home the madness. There is a character or two left hanging on the fringes that pays off in the finale, but could have been served even better if Dupieux had dedicated a little more time to them.
The hero is Georges (Jean Dujardin), who spends 7,500 Euros – approximately $8,200 dollars! – on a 100% deerskin jacket on a whim in the middle of the French countryside at the onset of the film. The seller throws in a digital video camera, which Georges immediately begins using to film his daily minutiae, all featuring the jacket in one way or another. We get the impression early on that Georges is running from his old life, especially when we learn that his wife has blocked access to his own bank account, but his backstory is never explicitly stated. He spends the last of his money to stay at a quaint local bed and breakfast where he befriends bartender Denise (Adèle Haenel), an aspiring film editor. From then on the film takes on an almost improvised feel, not so much in the dialogue, but in the way that Georges clearly seems to have no plan from one moment to the next. He tells Denise that he is a famous director in town working on his next project, but his excuses for the whereabouts of the rest of his crew get more and more outlandish (they’re filming an action scene in Siberia; his producers suddenly died in an avalanche, etc.).
Dujardin, whom American audiences surely know solely from his Oscar-winning work in 2011’s The Artist, is a delight, especially as the jacket begins to take over. He manages to play both the straight man and the maniac simultaneously, as the jacket develops its own deranged personality and he loses his grip on reality. During the scenes when he’s alone with the jacket, Dupieux films Georges clearly talking to himself, using a more gravelly voice for the jacket. It’s almost a modern-day Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation with comically outdated fashion sense.
Meanwhile, Haenel makes the most of her undercooked role (again, the film is only 77 minutes). Her bright-eyed enthusiasm for Georges’ project, even as it takes its darkest turn, feels true to her character without going too far over the edge. And yet, it’s not entirely clear why she continues to allow him to string her along. She’s not naive enough to fall for his bullshit, but it’s never explicitly explored. The final moment of the film hints at why (in one of its funniest moments, I might add), but – again – it almost feels improvised, in that Dupieux had no alternatives in mind for her characters’ arc.
It’s refreshing to see an independent comedy today that’s as original and clever as Deerskin, especially one as pitch-black as this one. Big budget comedies with A-list stars may keep the lights on at the cineplexes (current worldwide pandemic notwithstanding, of course), but where else would you find a film where the protagonist’s weapon of choice is a sharpened fan blade? Deerskin takes its time getting to the roots of its bonkers plan, but the ride it takes you on has fun to spare along the way.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography (bensearsphotography.com) and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.