To get a sense of just how strange the French film Deerskin is, take a look at the official synopsis:
“Georges, 44 years old, and his jacket, 100% deerskin, have a plan.”
The mystifying logline is perfect for the new black comedy from Quentin Dupieux (Reality, Rubber aka the killer tire movie), which stars The Artist’s Jean Dujardin as Georges. The film is slim in all senses of the word — in runtime (it clocks in at 77 minutes), in cast (Dujardin and Adèle Haenel play the only significant characters), and in concept (the jacket really is the thing) — and manages to escalate to a magnificent level of bizarreness nevertheless. It’s telling that Deerskin is screening as a part of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight selection, which screens off the to the side from the more “prestigious” competition slate, and played home to Mandy and Climax last year.
The film opens with three people delivering, direct to camera, the solemn promise that they’ll never wear a jacket again so long as they live. Then, they dump what jackets they own into the trunk of a car. As the film progresses, it transpires that this footage is being shot by Georges, who, after purchasing a 8,000€ (almost $9,000) deerskin jacket, becomes increasingly preoccupied with the idea that it must be the only jacket in existence.
The jacket itself is “killer,’ in Georges’ words: it’s a brown suede jacket with fringe along the chest, back, and arms, and almost as soon as he’s put it on, Georges can no longer stop inspecting his appearance in every reflective surface he passes by. It’s slightly ill-fitting, too short to cover his entire torso, and leaves a muffin top-esque bit of shirt peeking out above the loop of his belt, but he loves it.
It’s an obsession that’s aided by the camcorder that the jacket’s previous owner throws in as part of the bargain, which Georges uses to document his quest of jacket elimination. When he discovers that the local waitress, Denise (Haenel), moonlights as a film editor, his aimless recording finally begins to take shape.
There’s an aimlessness to Deerskin, too, insomuch as there are myriad details that never go anywhere, simply adding color to the landscape of Georges’ delusions. The pleasure of the film comes less from watching Georges’ plan, which grows increasingly unhinged, unfold, and more from watching Dujardin pull it all off. His admiration of the jacket is so absolute — he interrupts strangers at a bar soon after purchasing the jacket, asking them if they’re discussing his jacket — that the lengths to which he ends up going for it remain somehow believable.
Needless to say, things become bloody, though Deerskin is a comedy above all else. Georges’ obsession with his jacket takes on a life of its own, as does his general obsession with deerskin and completing his film, which he sells Denise on by boasting about imaginary producers on a glacier in Siberia.
As proven by his Oscar-winning turn in The Artist, Dujardin is a remarkably beguiling and facile performer, and Dupieux practically weaponizes that charm. Georges is a loser, as evidenced by how little his ex-wife wants to do with him and how much he browbeats Denise when she maxes out her bank card trying to get him money, and his descent is riveting. His fixation with the jacket should be pathetic, rather than funny (though, granted, the two aren’t mutually exclusive).
Dupieux isn’t particularly interested in what should be. There are some ideas that go underdeveloped — Georges’ fascination with filmmaking almost feels like it could be an analog for Dupieux’s own experiences, and the degree to which Denise understands what’s happening is unclear — but there’s one thing above all else in Georges’ mind, and so it goes with the film as well. Deerskin blows a single idea up into an entire film, and blows audience expectations out of the water.
If any of the above piques your interest, I highly advise not looking up any more about the film. There are a few plot details I’ve left out that, while they may seem innocuous at first glance, are almost twists in Dupieux’s hands. Deerskin is a hysterical, thrilling ride — it’s better left unspoiled.