It started with a jacket. A classic designer suede jacket with fringe that Georges (Jean Dujardin) travelled for hours to find. Such is his obsession that he even clumsily disposes of his old and bland jacket in a service station toilet.
This jacket is the real deal, injecting him with the confidence that he may have lost during his divorce – not that we know much about that. The past is only a distraction. From the moment Georges puts on his jacket, which he pays an absurd amount of cash for, he’s newborn. He’s the coolest cat in this little French alpine town.
The longer he embraces his midlife crisis, the stronger his split with reality. Before we know it, Georges crafts a new personality for himself and starts having conversations with his jacket who tells, or even orders him, to go out and destroy every other jacket in the world, even if by murder.
Aided by the dedicated Denise (Adèle Haenel), who dreams to become a film editor, Georges goes on this quest filming himself tricking people to release their jackets, destroying them, and even sometimes killing those who are too stubborn to let go of their garment in the middle of a cold European winter.
If you’re not familiar with the work of writer/director Quentin Dupieux, I bet this all sounds very strange. Even if you know who this idiosyncratic filmmaker is, it takes a while to rewire your brain to his universe.
Breaking out in the international film scene with Rubber in 2010, a film where a killer telepathic tyre rolls around the American desert creating havoc, Dupieux’s work travels in that uncanny valley where reality is only slightly distorted. Things look and feel real – he doesn’t shoot his films with visual excess – but there’s always something a little bit off (like a sociopathic jacket) that every character takes at face value. They’re often funny, but not as funny as they sound, violent but not as shlocky as they could be. But it’s Dupieux’s earnestness to his ideas that make his films work. They are very well-crafted, strange enough without outstaying their welcome, and above all deceptively clever.
Deerskin explores ideas of entertainment and toxic masculinity in crisis, and how it can be both sadistic and destructive. Violence gathers another meaning when done by a man on a mission and shown through a screen. Georges is constantly validated, and his actions accepted, but as he continues his endeavour he’s slowly turning into an animal, all the way to probably one of the most fearless endings in recent memory. It’s a punchline so tacky that only a filmmaker like Dupieux could make it work.
Both actors are terrific. Dujardin perfectly embodies the ultra-masculinity of the role, and Haenel is, right now, the brightest star of new French cinema. But it’s difficult to recommend Deerskin without a disclaimer that it isn’t for everyone, as entertaining as it may be.
Dupieux’s dry humour and outlandish ideas carry the narrative, and at just a little over 70 minutes, the idea isn’t stretched thin to the point of exhaustion. It ends exactly in the right spot – and not many films can claim that.
Deerskin is showing at selected cinemas in NSW.