LFF 2019: Deerskin Review
Whether it’s a tyre that can blow people up with its ‘mind’ (Rubber, 2010), or a man searching for his missing dog via canine telepathy (Wrong, 2012), the work of filmmaker Quentin Dupieux has always dealt with the surreal, many moments in his films often playing out in random, dreamlike ways. Deerskin (La daim, 2019) is no exception, Dupieux’s darkly humorous tale delving into the strange world of Georges (Jean Dujardin), a down-on-his-luck man who becomes obsessed with a new jacket that he buys for a hefty sum of money. Armed with a video camera that also got thrown into the deal, Georges finds himself in a small town in the middle of nowhere, his infatuation with his new clothing making him suddenly realise his ultimate life goal: to be the only person in the world to own a jacket. It’s a dream that the deerskin jacket is only too happy to help make come true, no matter how much it might cost Georges and the people around him.
In a lot of ways, this is very similar to Rubber, Dupieux revisiting that bizarre concept of the personification of an inanimate object and what happens to the humans who encounter it. While that was used literally in Rubber, the tyre joyfully rolling itself around to find its next victim, in Deerskin Dupieux hints that the life behind the object might actually all be in Georges’ head, this forlorn man initially using the clothing item as a way to feel less lonely. It starts out small, Georges spending a lot of time in front of the mirror so he can admire his “killer style”, or filming himself with that video camera as he narrates what he sees. But soon, he’s talking to himself as if it’s the jacket speaking back to him, the things it tells him to do becoming increasingly disturbing. With money quickly running out and his dream of being the only jacket-wearer a long way off, Georges starts to listen to the jacket’s suggestions, deciding to put that video camera to good use. And he’s not going to be using it to record a fashion show.
With a ‘talking’ item of clothing and a character who may or may not be a madman, it’s surprising that what actually makes Deerskin so interesting is the realism behind it all, Dupieux always keen to keep this in the realm of possibility rather than his more peculiar offerings. Dupieux suggests throughout that Georges’ recent divorce (and probably a mid-life crisis) are what fuels most of his decisions, his purchase of the jacket enabling him to seek out a new identity in his mundane existence. And it works, Georges feeling himself becoming more significant as soon as he wears the jacket, his pride swelling whenever anyone notices it and even bringing it up when they don’t, such as when he wrongly assumes a barmaid (Adèle Haenel) and another woman are discussing him and his superb sense of style. It’s certainly something a lot of us can understand, this idea of purchasing new clothes to fix something else in our lives extremely relatable (whether we’d like to admit it or not). And it’s this relatability that keeps us so hooked to Georges throughout his journey, our sympathies always lying with him, no matter what dubious direction he’s heading in next. However, it’s Dujardin’s amazing performance which makes this concept work so well, his brilliantly comedic portrayal also hinting at a hidden misery that Georges tries to keep at bay after losing everything in his life. As the lies pile up and he starts to take money from that barmaid to finish his ‘film’ (she just so happens to be an editor), we can’t help but feel sorry for him, even when he turns to unsavoury methods to get what he wants.
As with his other films, Dupieux skillfully walks that thin line between humour and darkness, filling his narrative with bizarre moments of comedy that we know we shouldn’t be laughing at, yet which are always hilarious. The strange, timeless setting of Dupieux’s story adds further to this surreal edge, the warm, brown colours he uses in every scene giving this an almost dreamlike feel at times – something that makes this fascinating to watch unfold. At just 77 minutes long, Deerskin doesn’t outstay its welcome too, Dupieux recognising that there’s only so much you can do with his simple concept before it becomes strained. And yet, the ending he conjures up is a little disappointing, his meaning clear enough (if a touch too literal), but the suddenness with which it happens leaving much to be desired. It’s also a shame that Dupieux (aka DJ Mr. Oizo) has chosen pre-existing songs for this rather than scoring it himself, especially when his stonking soundtrack for Rubber is what makes that film so rewatchable. Sure, the mellow disco hits he’s picked work well with Deerskin’s unusual tones and macabre happenings, but you can’t help wondering how perfect this would have been with Mr. Oizo’s beats accompanying Georges’ antics.
Although Deerskin sits comfortably alongside Dupieux’s other works, there’s a realistic aspect to the story that makes it particularly engrossing, the film a slightly more conventional outing for the writer-director as he works in intriguing ideas around identity and masculinity. Nonetheless, that surreal air is felt in every moment, from that timeless setting, to those random instances of humour, to Dujardin’s brilliant deadpan performance. It might not be as memorable as Dupieux’s other films, but Deerskin is still a wild ride while it’s happening.