From Quentin Dupieux, the director who gave us 2010’s Rubber about a sentient car tyre (yes) with psychokinetic abilities and newfound bloodlust (yes!), comes an equally unusual but decidedly more accessible French horror spoof, Deerskin (Le Daim), starring award winning actors Jean Dujardin as a man dangerously obsessed with suede, and Adèle Haenel as a naive bartender along for the ride.
There’s a lot of unpack out of Deerskin. Dupieux’s latest cinema offering explores the quick and violent downward spiral of Georges (Dujardin) who acquires a vintage suede spaghetti western jacket, replete with tassels and all manner of ‘killer style’. We know next to nothing about Georges; when we first are introduced to him he’s driving and appears disgruntled and on edge. He makes a quick pit stop at a service station where he takes off his suede sports jacket, folds it neatly, shoves it into the toilet and flushes. It’s an interesting introduction, to say the least. Soon after we see him pay an outrageous 7000 euro for a très cool brown deerskin jacket and receive a bonus handheld camcorder – then the madness starts to present itself. Bank depleted and with nowhere else to go, Georges sets himself up in an alpine hotel after his marriage dissolves (“You no longer exist, Georges,” his wife tells him over the phone), using his wedding ring as collateral. From here he makes a pretty quick descent into madness.
What first appears as a rather innocent and innocuous obsession in a brown suede jacket pretty quickly presents itself as a demented fetish with a twisted endgame. From the moment Georges puts on this suede jacket something seems to possess him – every reflective surface is a mirror for him to admire how this ill-fitting jacket sits around his rather round middle. He interrupts the conversations of strangers to talk about how great the jacket is, he talks to the jacket and gives it a voice of its own (which is literally is just Dujardin’s voice at a marginally deeper pitch, a fact that Dupieux makes no effort to hide). Directionally, the camera’s slow panning or mid-frame cuts between Georges and the jacket hanging on the back of a chair plays into the novelty of Georges’ mania manifesting itself as the jacket’s persona. Soon the deerskin has become its own central character, a criminal sidekick.
“So what, exactly, is the jacket’s role in all this?” you might ask. Well, the jacket wants to be the only jacket in the world, and Georges wants to be the only person in the world who wears it.
For those unfamiliar with lead actor Jean Dujardin beyond his Oscar winning performance in 2011’s The Artist, this role will seem extremely out of pocket. Devoid of all the suave appeal that made us swoon for the debonair black-and-white version of him, Deerskin’s version of Jean Dujardin leans into the actor’s roots of stage and sketch comedy and relatability he established on the French remake of Canadian comedy series Un Gars, Une Fille (A Guy, A Girl). Gone is the thin 1920s style ink black moustache, replaced with a grey-speckled beard and bald patch. The way he talks to himself, and the jacket, is almost endearing and it tricks you into getting comfortable so that Georges’ descent into nonchalant violence shocks you all the more. All of this is executed rather perfectly with a kind of sweet, clumsy charm that prevents Dujardin from being unlikeable even as the atrocities his character commits gradually escalate from throwing bricks at teens and stealing people’s jackets to indiscriminate murder.
Under the guise of making a film, Georges sweet-talks nice and curious bartender Denise (Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire) into working with him and funding his exploits. Denise is pretty switched on, recognising early on that Georges is just making things up as he goes along, but her genuine interest in film and editing leads her to working with him anyway. Denise’s encouragement of Georges’ lies feeds his mania, pushing him to do more and more outrageous things to please the jacket. There are moments, brief and glimmering, where it seems Denise has also been infatuated with the deerskin – she buys Georges a pair of matching tasselled suede pants as a gift and even takes him shopping for suede gloves, remarking to the retail assistant about ‘killer style’ in a way that beautifully mirrors Georges’ early stage psychosis. The pair play wonderfully together, developing something akin to friendship that, were this any other film and the jacket a real person, and not, you know – a jacket, would probably have acted as an inciting incident into a final showdown with the three of them pitting their insecurities and fears against each other until we’re left with one lone survivor.
In terms of the film’s technical aspects, in addition to the characterising camera pans and cuts, Dupieux’s cinematography and directing of the alpine town and its inhabitants is slow, quiet, and sometimes so drawn out as to seem needless. But this just perfectly encapsulates the kind of film Deerskin is – meandering, silly, and offbeat. The score, or lack thereof, comprises almost entirely of sporadic “duuuundun” horror beats, thrown in to remind you that at some point, this movie will get bloody and you will need to exercise patience to truly reap the fruits of Dupieux’s work.
Settling into Deerskin feels a bit like fumbling your way to your bed after turning the light off – it takes a moment for your eyes and brain to adjust to the new and sudden darkness, to make sense of the shapes you bump into as you feel your way to the mattress. Dupieux’s film starts simple enough, with a man and a suede jacket, and by the third act has become a new beast entirely. This film is definitely not for everyone and is likely to have audiences divided as to whether it was worth sitting through the lithe 77-minute run time. Whether you find Deerskin fun or a farce, Dujardin and Haenel’s commitment to the outrageousness of the film is to be commended.
In my opinion, this film is quite absurd but in all the right ways. It’s a weirdly wonderful entry into the pantheon of slasher satire that won’t make the kind of crashing impact of Cabin in the Woods, but will likely develop the kind of cult following that keeps films like it alive.