Quentin Dupieux is no stranger when it comes to multitasking. Call him a master of all trades. When he’s not churning out catchy techno under the stage name Mr. Oizo, Dupieux makes definitively oddball, surrealistic films: colorfully nihilistic, absurd visions of our world. Anyone who’s seen Rubber (in which we follow a murderous tire) or Wrong (which features William Fichtner playing a pet guru) will testify to the craziness. While I had my qualms with his previous films – they waltzed on the line between charmingly zany and uber-pretentious – Deerskin, as bat-s**t crazy as it is, marks the filmmaker’s most cohesive, and funniest, feature yet.
Part of the reason it works so well is due to the casting of its lead, Jean Dujardin, who’s still most-known for receiving an Oscar for (as an AFI Festival presenter so cunningly put it) “smiling a lot” in The Artist. As Georges, a man obsessed with a deerskin jacket, Dujardin plays against type, shedding his classy exterior – and in doing so, finds previously-unseen aspects of his persona. For the most part, he’s the only one on the screen, and an absolute blast to watch.
“After shelling out over a ridiculous 75,000€ on the garment, which he sought out somewhere deep in the Alps, Georges becomes obsessed…”
Georges is not only obsessed with the jacket, you see. After shelling out a ridiculous 75,000€ on the garment, which he sought out somewhere deep in the Alps, Georges becomes obsessed with this specific type of leather – and then with the notion that he should be the only one in this world wearing a jacket, period. He shelters himself in an isolated hotel, where he anthropomorphizes the jacket, chatting with it. He also meets Denise (Adèle Haenel), a local bartender. She goes along with Georges’ lie that he’s a documentary filmmaker, and even agrees to help him edit the lo-fi film. Things turn twisted, and the humor darkens, when a ceiling fan’s blades are sharpened into weapons, and jackets begin to pile up in Georges’ trunk.
Dupieux’ knack for creating a singular vision – call it Lynch-lite – is sharpened here, along with those ceiling blades. His cinematography, of what I assume are Swiss alps, is impressive, immersing the viewer into alienating, otherworldly surroundings. Despite all the laugh-out-loud hilarity/vulgarity, there’s a misty resonance here that lingers. Does this represent a newfound maturity for Dupieux?
Not much is revealed beyond what’s on screen. We get minuscule traces of Georges’ past: a girlfriend or wife he’s left behind, who blocked his account upon the discovery of his substantial withdrawal. Similarly, Dupieux provides sly (misleading?) hints regarding his motivation. Denise even offers her own theory, that he’s hiding from reality underneath this deerskin shell he’s created. Yet things are not that simple. Or maybe they aren’t so deep. You never know with Dupieux. One thing’s clear: at barely over an hour, Deerskin packs quite a punch, and is bound to get under your skin.
Deerskin screened at the 2019 AFI Fest.