Deerskin is a film about the film-making process, or a film about a man in the grip of a massive self-delusion, or one about the making of a serial killer, take your pick. It’s a comedy and it made me laugh several times, often simply because it is Jean Dujardin as the man at the centre of it all, an actor with funny bones – at his Oscar acceptance speech for The Artist, he name-checked both Laurence Olivier and Benny Hill.
Here’s a bare-bones plot – man buys an elaborately fringed deerskin jacket and finds himself so taken with how he looks in it that it changes his character. He starts “acting” like someone he’s not.
To put a bit more flesh on that, he’s paid €7,500 for the jacket. It’s a touch too small for his middle-aged body. He’s obviously also just broken up with his wife, and she responds to the withdrawal of the cash from their joint account by instantly blocking it, leaving Georges (Dujardin) high and dry in the small Pyrenean town he’s decided to stay in for a month. But at least Georges has a camera, which the seller of the jacket (Albert Delpy, father of Julie) threw in as part of the sale as an afterthought, perhaps because he was overjoyed at having made so much money out of something he was never going to wear again. Or maybe in an attempt to get this obvious weirdo out of his house.
And so, believing that the jacket is somehow communicating with him – it is “Made in Italy” so knows a thing or two about life and style, he reckons – Georges starts to pass himself off as a director, a fantasy he’s soon been joined in by local bartender Denise (Adèle Haenel), who has, she confides to Georges, always wanted to be an editor.
The rest of the film is Georges’s midlife misadventures with the jacket, whose voice he ventriloquises, in much the way Danny in The Shining would squawk “Red Rum” to himself. Though he knows nothing at all about film-making, Georges is convinced that the “killer style” conferred on him by the jacket is a passport to whatever he wants. He’s invincible. And dangerous, but that comes later. For now the important this is to acquire more deerskin – hat, gloves, trousers. And it’s surely no accident that almost everything around Georges, clothes, decors, furniture, seems to be deerskin-coloured too.
Yes, it’s a bit of an odd one, but then the last film I saw by writer/director Quentin Dupieux, Rubber, was about a tyre in the desert which suddenly became sentient. It was fabulously odd and it really was about a car tyre bouncing about having adventures, while also making the point that you can make an interesting film with nothing at all as long as you have imagination.
In effect Dujardin is playing Dupieux himself – a man with a movie camera, plus limitless imagination (plus jacket) equals a film director, no matter how technically backward the man with the camera is.
Rubber eventually started to morph into a horror film, having started out more like a Lassie story of a dumb thing proving it wasn’t so dumb, and Deerskin does the same, as the jacket’s monomaniac ambition to be the only jacket in the world starts to exert itself and Georges starts going to extreme lengths to help the jacket fulfil its fantasy.
As a study of psychopathy it’s as good as a lot of ostensibly more serious films – Georges’s weird behaviour makes total sense to Georges – as a shorthand for the film-making process it’s also a neat pencil sketch.
Adèle Haenel as the bartender/accomplice/editor, recently seen in Portrait of a Woman on Fire and often in serious roles, never cracks a smile as Denise. She plays it straight to Dujardin’s deadpan, which is more Buster Keaton than Benny Hill, though Georges himself probably believes he’s Jean-Paul Belmondo (whose mannerisms Dujardin is possibly aping when he’s preening).
At 75 minutes, this is a short film, but it does what it wants to do, economically and stylishly, and it’s as funny as it is bizarre. No more need be said.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021