A man’s mid-life crisis takes the form of a murderous jacket. Gemma Creagh reviews the surreal comedy, Deerskin.
In the opening sequence, the camera lingers on an awkward, middle-aged man, Georges (Jean Dujardin) as he rolls up his blazer. He stuffs it into a garage toilet, water overflowing as he soaks his feet, intently stamping it down. An absurd, offbeat introduction to a film that defies a simple classification, much like Deerskin’s auteur…
Back in 1999, when MTV still played music videos, a strange yellow puppet called Flat Eric was used to sell Levis to the repetitive, thumping dance tunes – something familiar to anyone of millennial age and above. Mr Oizo is the stage name for the composer of those Daft Punk-esque house beats, the very same quirky mind behind Deerskin. A film fanatic since his teens, Quentin Dupieux cut his teeth with his music videos, but made a name for himself internationally with 2010’s Rubber. That satirical horror featured a sentient car tire who goes on a killing spree – a logline that with the change of one word, could also apply to Deerskin.
Whether it’s a commentary on capitalism or just a quirky conduit for magic realism, Dupieux’s personification of inanimate or unlikely objects is a recurring feature in his work. Leaning right into his midlife crisis, Deerskin’s Georges excitedly spends thousands on a second-hand, fringed suede jacket. Having left his wife, he arrives to a secluded town with no money and little else but a dated old camcorder. Georges longs for a fresh start wearing his new “killer style” – however, his persuasive jacket has other plans. He befriends local bartender, and aspiring editor, Denise (Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire). Tricking her into believing he’s a filmmaker, she unwittingly financially facilitates his attempts to achieve his new life’s goal: for his jacket to be the only one in the world.
Although the entire plot rests on a weird, but ultimately weak premise, there’s just enough pitch-black humour and unpredictability to keep you entertained throughout the seventy seven minutes. The striking, dated production design by Joan Le Boru transports the viewer to another – fabulously tasteless – universe. The meta filmmaking jokes and frequent scenes of Georges’s back-and-forth with the jacket (these take the form of focus pulling, while Dujardin speaks with himself) get old… fast. Yet, these are balanced with just enough clever, surreal or deadpan dialogue and silly, camp violence to keep the pace ticking along.
It’s Dupieux’s characterisations teamed with the lead performances that really sell this premise. Squirmy and intense, Dujardin is almost unrecognisable from his standout performance in the The Artist. He harnesses the perfect balance of delusion and desperation for Georges, playing against fellow acting heavyweight Haenel and her warm portrayal of earnest, ambitious Denise. Due to this added depth, there’s an earthiness to Deerskin that steers it away from the most common absurdist pitfall (pretentious and cynical intellectualism), making this a fun, silly yet very dark watch.
Deerskin is in selected cinemas from 16th July 2021.