Deerskin: Odd Fit, by Josh Long
If you’re coming across Deerskin (Le Daim), it’s likely that you’re familiar with the work of Quentin Dupieux, and that you know what kind of absurd, potentially horrific comedy to expect. If you know nothing about the his previous work, you’re in for a bizarre ride. That being said, this isn’t the kind of raucous midnight movie absurdity of Rubber’s murderous tire, nor the reality-bending surrealism of 2012’s Wrong. Deerskin finds itself in a more realist milieu, which makes its weirdness that much… weirder.
Jean Dujardin (The Artist) plays Georges, a middle-aged oddball who pays a stranger €7500 for a deerskin jacket. He’s so taken with it and the “killer style” it lends him, that he never takes it off. He makes his way to a small town in rural France, where we realize that he’s recently separated from his wife, who doesn’t want to hear from him, and has cut off his credit card. In his loneliness, Georges begins to hear the jacket speaking to him. And what the jacket wants… is to be the only jacket in the world. Which is great, because Georges confides that he wants to be the only person in the world wearing a jacket.
When Georges meets young bartender Denise (Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire), he panics and tells her that he’s a filmmaker. She unwittingly calls his bluff by telling him that she’s a film editor. He hires her onto his non-existent “project,” and thus begins their cooperation down a strange road that leads to theft, murder, and a full-on deerskin ensemble.
The premise is, unsurprisingly, bizarre. A killer jacket, sure, but a killer jacket because it wants to be the world’s only jacket? This is where things get absurd. But odd as it is, the film still seems grounded in the real world. Nothing supernatural, nothing openly surrealist. Were it set in a stranger world, the premise might seem stupid, but in our reality Georges comes off as a strange, and probably sociopathic, loner. He’s grasping at straws to control his world, and somehow the pride he gains from the jacket becomes necessary for his survival. It’s like an addiction, whose ultimately meaningless payoff will require more and more of the user.
Or maybe the jacket is in some way a parasite, an entity that feeds off its host by promising glamour and attention. Seeking out hopeless individuals with no raison d’etre, stirring up dreams of being someone it’s impossible not to notice. Perhaps Denise too is one of these lost souls, and will be the next under the jacket’s thrall. The fact is, it could be a lot of things, and thematically it’s a bit hard to lock down. Maybe it’s even a statement about animal rights and hunting, although if so, the whole thing seems a little on the nose and boring. I prefer to think there’s something more to it.
Whether or not it’s central in the filmmaker’s mind, there is certainly a strong through line about cinema. Georges is given a digital camera by the same man who sells him the jacket. He becomes obsessed with filming himself in the jacket, and then filming his attempts to get rid of everyone else’s jackets. The narcissism of one’s own artistic expression connects with the desire to have (or to be) the only jacket. Dupieux here seems to self-effacingly comment on the inherent solipsism of filmmaking. That to make a film is to create an image of oneself or one’s ideas and on some level to say “my artistic expression is as important (if not more important) than any that has come before.” The more Georges feeds this idea of himself, the less he is able to think of other people as humans. They quickly become mere impediments to his dreams.
This all sounds very heady and dark, but Dupieux flexes his comedy muscles too. He’s a filmmaker who knows how to build and shoot comedic moments, and most land effectively. He’s helped out by Dujardin, who has fantastic comedic timing and delivery – if you haven’t seen his OSS 117 films, do yourself a favor. He walks a perfect line between creepy and funny; he shocks the audience without ever alienating us. Haenel’s Denise is an unexpected foil, crawling deeper into his world just when we expect her to be repelled. We believe her, even if we don’t understand her.
The film’s conclusion, sadly, is too abrupt. While we may not need to spend another hour with these characters, it does still feel like there are avenues not explored and loose ends not tied up. This probably further contributes to a sense that the film could be about one of many different things. Or maybe it’s about all of them? After Deerskin’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 77 minutes, you can expect to be left scratching your head, but probably laughing too. And even if you can’t figure out what it’s all about (if it’s about anything at all), it’ll leave you thinking. As it should.