In Quentin Dupieux’s latest odd undertaking of a film, Deerskin, Jean Dujardin plays Georges, a man obsessed with the “killer style” of his new deerskin jacket. The seller of this jacket also gives Georges a digital camera, and with little on his mind other than that jacket, Georges starts to film the jacket. He starts to talk to the jacket. He gets matching apparel to further accentuate the awesomeness of his jacket. In the small town he finds himself in, he proclaims himself a filmmaker, eventually enlisting the help of waitress/editor, Denise, played by Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Adèle Haenel.
As Denise starts to view the “footage” and starts to piece it together, she asks Georges, “Isn’t your movie weird?” Unfazed by this criticism, Georges matter-of-factly states, “It isn’t weird at all. It’s amazing. You can’t make sense of it now, but it rocks.” Weird has been a key component of Dupieux’s work, with films like Wrong and his debut, Rubber, which centered around a sentient car tire. Like all of Dupieux’s films, Deerskin is a one-note joke taken to feature-length level, as Georges attempts to become the only person in the world with a jacket, it’s also Dupieux’s most straight-forward story. Is it weird? Of course. Is is amazing? Not quite. But it is the closest Dupieux has been to amazing.
The key to Deerskin’s success comes from the deadpan seriousness coming from Dujardin and Haenel, embracing the strangeness in full force. Dujardin – sporting a beard that makes him look just like Mandy Patinkin – plays the quietly crazed Georges with a charming style. He’s separated from his wife and she’s closed their shared bank account, yet poor and homeless, Georges is able to talk people into letting him stay at their hotel for free and gets Denise to give him all the cash he needs to make his movie. With his life falling apart around him, Georges is still more focused on the jacket-less future, where he will be the only one walking down the streets with his Italian-made deerskin jacket. Even when Georges goes back to his hotel that looks like Travis Bickle’s apartment, talks to his jacket, sharpens a fan blade, and then starts killing people who refuse to give up their jackets, Dujardin’s performance still makes him a charmer, a dreamer just trying to achieve the impossible.
Haenel is equally great, particularly when she tries to fashion some semblance of a narrative out of Georges unusual footage. If Georges is the film’s cypher for Dupieux, Denise is the audience, with her attempts to figure out what is going on, what is really Georges’ deal and what the purpose of it all is. It’s Denise’s involvement that makes this all come together, as she succinctly explains the metaphor of Georges’ jacket, which seems like a revelation also to Georges.
Yet knowing Dupieux’s past work, his growth as a filmmaker is the most remarkable aspect of Deerskin. Tonally, this isn’t all that different from his past films, but he’s found an ecumenical and smart way to put his ideas into a story that isn’t overwhelmed by his unconventional style. His humor is in tact, but it’s presented in a way that serves the story, not just to confuse his audience. Dupieux’s earlier films had a larger point to them, but they often fizzled out in lieu of wild ideas and ridiculous situations. In Deerskin, these all come together in service of the premise and hold throughout the short runtime.
But still, Deerskin isn’t without plenty of faults. Again, it is one joke stretched out, and it takes quite some time for that joke to build. As enjoyable as Dujardin and Haenel are, this is still a film devoid of any real character development, outside of furthering Georges’ one-jacket-world dream. But as a strange little deviation from the normal and a furthering evolution of Dupieux’s style as an abnormal comedian of sorts, Deerskin is a peculiar and eccentric experiment that mostly works.