Deerskin (Le daim)

France (2019) Dir. Quentin Dupieux

Ah, the midlife crisis – when a man reaches that point where they try to reclaim their youth. Whether a new car, laughably contemporary image, or hooking up with a younger woman, the only guarantee is the result won’t be pleasant.

Georges (Jean Dujardin) has split from his wife and lost his job, and takes refuge in a remote country locale, where he buys a genuine fringed deerskin jacket from a man who also throws in a digital camcorder he has no use for. Despite the jacket not fitting him, Georges thinks he looks the business and can’t stop admiring himself in it. Whilst at a bar Georges is convinced bartender Denise (Adèle Haenel) is staring at his jacket.

In a moment of bluster, Georges claims he is a filmmaker; as it transpires, Denise is an aspiring editor and Georges hires her to edit his footage. Meanwhile Georges and the jacket have conversations about achieving their dreams – the jacket wants to be the only one in the world, and Georges want to be the only person to wear it. This gives him the theme for his film, getting rid of jackets and killing those who refuse to give theirs up.

“Killer style” Georges often remarks about his newfound sartorial chic, a presage of some irony we don’t realise the gravity of until halfway through Deerskin. This jet black horror comedy is the creation of Quentin Dupieux, a director with surreal leanings. He was also the music DJ who inflicted Flat Eric on the world back in the late ‘90s. I’ve not seen his prior films but I feel confident they are a better use of his time than Flat Eric.

Defining what this film is really about is not easy – is it mocking mid life crisis, or the materialism associated with delusional fashion sense? Maybe it is a satire on filmmaking and the egos that work in it, highlighting those who exploit the willing for their own gain; or perhaps it is a critique on killing animals for fashion and this is what happens when this barbaric act comes back to bite us on the backside.

One thing is for sure, Deerskin is not a predictable film which makes it such compulsive viewing not being able to foresee what happens next. Decidedly low budget and indie in feel even with two marquee names like Dujardin and Haenel onboard, the unassuming charm it possesses in the opening act is corrupted to levels unimaginable but never loses sight of its irreverence and wickedly dark tongue in cheek attitude.

Played straight for maximum comic effect, Georges already looks like he belongs in the mountains with his thick greying beard and middle age spread, yet the urbane image he presents at first is summarily shattered when he puts the ill-fitting jacket on and can’t seem to see what a tit he looks in it, although your mileage may vary on this. Nothing against the jacket, it is a smart piece of tailoring but one that fell extinct in the 1970s for a reason.

Whether the jacket talking to Georges is meant to represent the stress of his life falling apart or imply the jacket is possessed after being locked away in a trunk for 40 years is open to interpretation; Dupieux did make a film about a sentient rubber car tyre that kills people so anything is possible. It is more likely the former, as if his current mania demands justification for revenge on Georges behalf, the jacket being the trigger. And as Georges appends his deerskin wardrobe, the darker his objectives become.

Having no clue about filmmaking, George initially films all sorts of rubbish but mostly himself in the jacket; even then, Denise is able to create some sort of narrative from this erratic footage before and finds it fascinating. Now he has a concept, the first stage is to pay people to vow never to wear a jacket again and put them in the boot of his car, which George then drives away.

The money comes from Denise, conned into believing Georges’ non-existent producers will repay her later, but her funds soon run out too, forcing Georges to improvise – in this case get violent. After all, if the person is dead they not only won’t need their jacket anymore but also won’t need paying either, so really it works out for everyone. Yes, it is daft but gore fans will find some of the kills oddly glorious in a funny way.

Even with its linear narrative, this is a film that has us asking, “How did we get to this?” at many stages throughout its swift 76-minute run, and that isn’t a complaint either. I must confess I expected this to be about Georges finding a new confidence because of the jacket, rebuilding his life then suffers another fall before learning an important life lesson – something we’d expect from East European cinema, a droll commentary on vanity and toxic masculinity.

Credit to Dupieux for taking us down paths so unexpected the joy is wondering what will happen next and indeed how it will end. As mentioned earlier, few clues in the deadpan presentation give any hint of this being a comedy, no matter how sardonic; had Dupieux leaned into this aspect, much of the film would have failed. It rests on us being able to believe what we see and the conviction of the cast – Dujardin and Haenel are both great and work well together – and the lack of affectation is integral to this.

Bold, unorthodox cinema with a unique vision that is also acerbically funny and original as well as palatable is a rare find these days but Deerskin stands as an example of this. We can hope others may follow Dupieux’s example, extending to A-list actors too, who could use smaller projects like this to remind them cinema doesn’t need to be grandiose to be great.

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