Deerskin is director Quentin Dupieux’s latest foray into the sublimely surreal and is anchored by strong performances from Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel.
It has taken a while for Deerskin to make it out of its origin country and to wider audiences. From July 2021, people in the UK and the United States will finally be able to enjoy this bizarre, crazed romp in the mountains, which premiered at Cannes in 2019. And for all its weirdness, Quentin Dupieux (Rubber, Mandibles) still manages to make Deerskin an enjoyable affair, a breezy 77 minutes of a smouldering Jean Dujardin (Little White Lies, The Artist) prancing about in a deerskin jacket in a remote village.
Through the short runtime, we observe Dujardin’s Georges descend into insanity as his obsession with his jacket (and subsequent trousers, shoes and hat to match) brings about violence, murder, and lots and lots of blood. Oh, and the jacket also talks, or rather it does in Georges’ mind. This doesn’t even quite convey how odd Deerskin is. But it’s not weirdness for weirdness’ sake. Dupieux has plenty to say about the toxic masculinity and vanity present in today’s society – as well as hinting at the cruelty of the leather and clothing industry in terms of animal welfare – and whilst these commentaries don’t always land or ultimately form into something wholly cohesive, Deerskin still manages to maintain some meaningful eccentricity.
Georges, 44, is your stereotypical middle-aged man: there are hints of a recent divorce or separation from a woman, flailing attempts at fatherhood, an aimless search for a new journey in life and a severe streak of narcissism. These notions are compounded into his new jacket, a 100% deerskin piece of clothing with elaborate tassels surrounding the upper chest area. It’s important to note the 100% deerskin aspect, because this is referred to on countless occasions by numerous characters, reinforcing the ‘all or nothing’ attitude of people in society today and their destructive approach in achieving this end goal.
The character of Georges is brought to life in magnificent fashion by Dupieux’s screenplay – which uses dialogue sparingly but effectively – and Dujardin’s central performance. The latter is based as much on Dujardin’s arrogant, narcissistic glances into mirrors and windows as it is on the monologues and dialogue he delivers. Both aspects in Deerskin amalgamate to create a genuinely unpleasant and wholly irredeemable character in Georges, but also one that is startlingly recognisable. Credit must go to Dupieux for not making Georges likable or trying to invoke sympathy for him (and that’s even before the murdering starts).
The narrative of Deerskin doesn’t just centre around a prancing, preening Dujardin, although a fair amount of screentime is afforded for this. With one of Georges’ early lies, he tells bartender Denise, played by the ever-engaging Adèle Haenel (Water Lilies, Portrait of a Lady on Fire), that he is a filmmaker. Denise, an amateur editor, is instantly intrigued, despite probably knowing deep down that Georges is lying. And so begins the relationship between the two, an abusive one based around Georges’ manipulation of Denise, but one that becomes impressively complex as Deerskin progresses and has an absorbing, welcome shift of power late on in the film. Haenel is not given as much to sink her teeth into as she normally has when working with frequent collaborator Céline Sciamma (Dupieux and Sciamma are vastly different directors) but she still provides an absorbing performance that compliments Dujardin’s perfectly.
Deerskin won’t be for everyone: even discounting the surrealism, it is a film about an incredibly self-centred man who wears a jacket (and later an outfit) made from the skin of a living sentient being. He also throws a rock at a child in a particularly ugly moment. There are zero redeeming features about Georges, or Deerskin as a whole for that matter, and that can cause the narrative and themes to sometimes take a backseat to the unsavoury scenes playing out. Dupieux never quite commits to the more serious tones, often struggling to effectively balance the eccentricities of the film with them. But that is Dupieux’s aim: here he has created an often morose, often ultra-violent, always odd film, whose deeper messages don’t necessarily need to be there. It might not live long in the memory, but Deerskin will most certainly grab your attention for its splendidly weird duration.