Review: Deerskin

Director: Quentin Dupieux

Stars: Adèle Haenel, Jean Dujardin, Albert Delpy

As a costume piece that elaborates on character, the jacket has a storied history in cinema that goes back to it’s silent days. For modern touchstones – especially in terms of how it is linked to masculinity – consider the ubiquity of Sailor’s snakeskin jacket in Lynch’s Wild at Heart, or the scorpion sting on the back of Ryan Gosling’s iconic, nameless Driver.

Such ‘killer style’ can become quite aspirational, especially when one’s own life lacks definition. Quentin Dupieux – director of such willfully offbeat films as Rubber and Wrong – here mines into the male mid-life crisis, and the deranged sense of misplaced bravado that can be applied to such items as a means of compensation. And, in the process, he takes a loving swipe at the indie filmmaking process and our obsession with self-documentation.

Jean Dujardin is Georges; a middle class, well-groomed man who has seemingly walked out on his life. Spending close to €8,000 on an Italian deerskin jacket that comes – inexplicably – with a digital camera, Georges holes up in a nearby town, lying his way into a local hotel. Utterly aimless and without a euro to his name, Georges spins yarns to local barmaid Denise (Adèle Haenel) that he is a filmmaker out working alone.

Enamored with his new fashion statement, Georges grows quietly unhinged, holding conversations with the jacket and becoming increasingly resentful of other jacketed persons that he comes into contact with. It’s decided; he will rid the world of all other jackets so that he can reign supreme. And Denise – a budding editor no less – will help him!

Daft, wantonly silly and – later – homicidally maniacal, Deerskin is a strange beast befitting of its director, whose casually surreal work shrugs off serious readings and often makes a mockery of such study. But there is much to enjoy here. We’d be forgiven for initially dismissing Denise as being far too naive, handing over wads of money to her amiable new acquaintance. But as the film progresses it becomes clear that, in spite of Georges posturing, she is the dominant force in their relationship, steering a narcissistic simpleton into a murderous spree for her own elusive (but not unguessable) motives.

Deerskin lightly presses the idea that the jacket itself is possessed, thanks to one scene in which it speaks to Georges while he is asleep – a marked shift from the poor-man’s ventriloquism seen elsewhere. This notion links the film spiritually to Peter Strickland’s slow-burn hoot In Fabric (made around the same time), which details the exploits of a killer dress. That Dupieux finds menacing potential in an inanimate object should be of no surprise to those that witnessed a killer tyre psychically detonating heads in Rubber a decade ago.

Just as possessive, it seems, is Georges new digital camera, which he is rarely seen without. Increasingly he reverses the direction of the lens, adding himself to the footage he passes on to Denise to forge together. She claims to believe it’s a staged mockumentary, but her increasing nous makes this statement seem like a convenient lie. Deerskin can merrily be read as a satire of selfie-culture, in which acts of murder with a detached ceiling fan blade are just as much fodder for self-cataloging as anything else.

Georges annihilates the ‘budget’ afforded him by Denise on bribing strangers to part with their jackets, or on further completing his deerskin outfit – something that is gradually elaborated on over the course of the film’s svelte 77 minutes. With his happenstance shooting and financial dire straits, Georges project is all too easily reminiscent of such filmmaking farces as Day for Night or Irma Vep, just on an even smaller scale. One senses this is how Dupieux – who makes his oddball curious on the cheap with limited resources – feels about his own acts of creation, and the art form as a whole. An entirely improbably enterprise built on chance, luck and opportunism.

The ending, while not wholly out-of-the-blue, is another of Dupieux’s now-trademark “Fuck you”s to cinematic convention or the notion that a story must adhere to set principals. That’s all well and good, but it’s not all that satisfying. Having said that, his final shot before cutting to his own director credit does give further credence to aspects hinted at above and, of course, the post-credit sequences that pop up are as meaningful or meaningless as you want them to be. As is the whole damned thing, really.

I thought Koko-Di Koko-Da was destined to be the most out-there acquisition made by Picturehouse for UK distribution. I’m fairly happy to say I was wrong. Deerskin is a film of little importance but, in today’s marketplace, I’m extremely happy that it can find a place to exist.

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