A man named Georges (Jean Dujardin) pays more than €7,000 for a garish fringed leather jacket made from deer skin, before booking himself into a nearby hotel. His obsession with his purchase then spirals out of control, in this absurd and bleak comedy from writer/director Quentin Dupieux (Rubber).
Deerskin is such a strange little feature. At 77 minutes it barely has a chance to get started before it’s rushing towards a finale. It is oddly told, with a tone that starts off a little dull and then becomes rather funny – and by the time it really stops being funny and starts becoming deadly serious you are probably still laughing because any gravitas at all has been built on top of something sublimely ridiculous. It has a very original yet silly premise, but it fully commits. Perhaps the most inviting thing about the film is that you will probably not have seen something quite like it before.
We are not told very much about Georges. He is palpably impressed with his new purchase, to fetishistic levels of pleasure. At the same time he is patently ridiculous. The fringes on the jacket’s chest, arms, and back present as a horrifying cliche from less fashionable times. The jacket does not even fit: Georges squeezes into it awkwardly, with his forearms exposed and a gap of several inches between its supposed waist and Georges’ own trousers. We do know that the jacket cost him the last of his money, and that somewhere he has a wife who has put a bar on their joint bank accounts. It all adds up to some form of mid-live crisis, mixed with a defiant struggle to exercise his masculinity, but all in all he cuts a pathetic figure. Jean Dujardin is a superb comedic actor, and here he applies exactly the right level of pressure on his character to seem dramatic while still amusing the audience. It is an excellent piece of work.
Adèle Haenel plays Denise, a young woman who works at a quiet bar and who edits film as a hobby. She boasts to Georges of how she re-edited Pulp Fiction from a non-linear story to one in sequential order. (‘It sucked,’ she exclaims.) She is a fascinating foil for Georges’ growing mania; she seems quite smart and perceptive, yet appears to buy into Georges’ lie that he is a rogue filmmaker making an entire movie on his own with a digital camera. Her enthusiasm for his fiction gives it a strange sense of normality. The film becomes easier to digest during its stranger portions because Denise is there giving it a sort of credibility.
Here brevity is a strengh, and the short duration allows Dupieux to full indulge in the story’s ridiculous qualities without over-staying its welcome. Deerskin is strange, silly, hilarious, and disturbing, almost all at the same time. It is the kind of wonderful gem one finds late at night at some film festival: never to be seen again, always to be fondly remembered, and met with incredulity when explained to other film enthusiasts year down the track.
Deerskin is now available for online rental and purchase in Australia from Umbrella Entertainment.