Director: Quentin Dupieux
Screenwriter: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Pierre Gommé, Marie Bunel, Coralie Russier, Laurent Nicolas, Youssef Hajdi
Most of us have made needlessly extravagant purchases at some point in our lives, be that when we’ve come into a little extra disposable cash or we just want to treat ourselves – trainers, gadgets, tickets to a must-see show, a special jacket. Quentin Dupieux’s dark comic horror Deerskin asks what happens when obsession with a distinct and expensive item of outerwear goes too far, doing so to creepily entertaining results.
Deerskin opens with a lingering shot of Georges (Jean Dujardin) looking at his image in various reflective surfaces wearing his boring corduroy jacket and a disgusted expression before unceremoniously jamming said jacket down a service station toilet. Georges then travels out of his way to respond to an advert for a unique, fringed deerskin leather jacket, and an eye-watering 7,500 euros later he has, in his words, “killer style”. After his estranged wife blocks his access to their shared account, Georges decides to pose as an indie film director in order to sponge off Denise (Adèle Haenel), a good-natured aspiring editor working at a bar, her savings funding both Georges’ fake film and his darker behaviours.
We never really find out that much about Georges – his job, where he’s from, what his background is and what his interests are – only that he has poor taste in clothing and an addictive personality. His new jacket in his mind makes him a complete person, a person who is finally noticed because of his unique fashion choices and the magnetic draw his clothes impart on him, someone who has a more interesting story to tell by masquerading as a filmmaker.
The jacket is a character with a personality all its own. Georges converses with it (putting on a slightly different voice as the camera pulls focus to do so), and it seems to watch him almost lustfully while he sleeps and while he showers. He will do anything to make sure they are never kept apart for long. He will never give up on the jacket no matter how strapped for cash he becomes. He will sooner abandon his wedding ring at a grotty motel desk than sell the video camera that was thrown in with the purchase of the jacket because it’s an essential prop that goes with his new invented persona.
With her dreams of being a professional editor, Denise of course knows all about filmmaking technique and can spot the signs of the poser, but despite seemingly seeing right through Georges’ bullshit pretty early on, she is still taken in when he offers her a job. She easily spots that “the real subject of the film is the jacket” and begins assembling the scattershot footage Georges brings her, this narrative element coming perilously close to shattering the fourth wall.
Before long Georges’ obsession with wearing the perfect deerskin jacket grows into a dream of being “the only person wearing a jacket in the world”, so under the pretence of making his experimental film he starts driving around the French countryside and liberating people, using increasingly violent means, of all the jackets he can find, making them swear “never to wear a jacket as long as I live” and making sure this promise is kept. This is where the film’s tone shifts sharply from whimsical to dark and disturbing, especially as we see Georges’ increasingly frightening criminal behaviour through Denise’s eyes, she and us watching the footage he brings her transfixed with equal parts excitement and horror.
Dujardin and Haenel are a winning combination, their characters a classic mismatched pairing each with their own dreams, one deranged and manipulative and the other passionate but seemingly naïve. Dujardin continues his successful run of memorable character performances that began with Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist and Haenel continues her run of strong, impassioned turns with hidden depths following hot on the heels of Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Deerskin is admittedly an oddity, but it’s a distinct, well-acted and pleasingly weird little comedy-horror. At just 77 minutes there isn’t an ounce of fat on it, though with a little more space to breathe it could have delved further into warped character psychologies or the metatextual aspect of commenting on a film-within-a-film sharing the same message as the film we’re watching. Make sure not to take any moral of this tale too literally, or at the very least make sure the jacket you’re prepared to kill for really is the one and only.