Directors’ Fortnight opens with a ’winningly offbeat and unexpected’ dark comedy from Quentin Dupieux
Dir/scr: Quentin Dupieux. France. 2019. 77 mins
Clothes maketh the man and dictate his increasingly unhinged actions in Deerskin (Le Daim). Writer/director (and DJ/musician) Quentin Dupieux has past form with fetishistic mayhem (Rubber, etc) and successfully transforms a quirky premise into an enjoyably off-the-wall combination of black comedy and soulful character study. The stellar presence of Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel should help to carry the film beyond cult/curio status towards more mainstream acceptance.
Soon, man and garment have become so intimate that they are having conversations
Deerskin begins with the simple purchase of a garment. Georges (Dujardin) is delighted to spend a small fortune on a vintage, Made-in-Italy, 100% deerskin jacket. It is the kind of jacket that might have adorned a macho hero’s broad shoulders in a 1960s western. It is also the first step in a Patricia Highsmith-style process of reinvention where Georges cuts the ties to his past and embraces a newfound freedom.
Taking up residence in a remote country hotel, the now penniless Georges decides to declare himself a filmmaker. The seller of the jacket threw in a digital camera with the purchase and so Georges starts to document his daily life. The alluring, fully intact fringe on his jacket makes for a favourite subject. Soon, man and garment have become so intimate that they are having conversations. Georges befriends local waitress and aspiring film editor Denise (Adele Haenel) whose enthusiasm forces him to make good on his boast that he is shooting a film in the area.
Dupieux manages to sustain credibility and an air of unpredictability as he leads the viewer through a series of improbable developments. Are we witnessing a form of mental breakdown or are the seeds being sewn for an “origins” portrait of an implacable serial killer? There are all kinds of hints and teases for movie buffs with echoes of Dead Of Night (1945) or Peeping Tom (1959) in Georges’s relationship with an inanimate object and his desire to record his lethal actions.
The jacket has a dream of being the only such garment in the world and Georges is equally keen to become the only person on the planet wearing such a garment and displaying his “ killer style” . He is transformed into a man on a mission to rid the world of jackets and their wearers by any means necessary.
Deerskin turns towards the violent but remains marbled with dark visual and verbal humour. Jean Dujardin maintains an admirable sang froid throughout, giving Georges the courage of his convictions and grounding everything in a sense of reality. He has the charm to win the trust of those he encounters and never overplays the obsessive elements that start to govern Georges’ life. He brings a great understated relish to the character’s appreciation of a buckskin wardrobe that grows to include trousers, a hat and a snug pair of fighting gloves. Offered a cheaper alternative by a sales assistant, he loftily demands: “Do I look like a synthetic guy?”
Adele Haenel is a game presence as Denise, adding some snap to the banter with Georges, and it is entirely believable that her character is far less gullible than she might originally appear.
The modest running time of Deerskin (also something of a Dupieux trademark) means that it does feel a little slight and underdeveloped in places. However, there are enough sparks of originality and comic invention throughout to capture those in search of something winningly offbeat and unexpected.
Production companies: Atelier De Production, Arte France Cinema, Nexus Factory, Umedia, Garidi Films
International sales: WT Films firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Mathieu Verhaeghe, Thomas Verhaeghe
Cinematography: Quentin Dupieux
Production designer: Joan Le Boru
Editor: Quentin Dupieux
Main cast: Jean Dujardin, Adele Haenel, Albert Delpy, Coralie Russier