During his pre-screening speech at the Directors’ Fortnight opening ceremony in Cannes, director Quentin Dupieux (wearing a jacket that could very well have been made of deerskin) spoke of his joy making Deerskin and how it felt more like his feature debut than his seventh. It does seem like a first film thanks to its playfulness and willingness to risk (elements that are part of Dupieux’s filmmaking), yet it looks very much like a seventh film due to the director’s skill as he manipulates the camera and the audience on this short modern parable.
The film is set in the remote mountains of France. But before we get there, we have a prelude to what is to come, with a trio of teens shoving piles of coats into the back of the car and announcing that this will be the last time they ever wear a jacket. This is followed by Georges (Jean Dujardin), a bearded 40-something man in a beat-up old car. He’s on his way to buy a deerskin jacket at an eye-popping price and en route we see Georges discard his boring old green corduroy jacket. The jacket seems to hold magical powers, for as soon as Georges puts it on, he is in love and in thrall to this fringed monstrosity. Imagine an accountant wearing George Michael’s Wham-era fringe suede jacket and you realise that this is a serious case of amour fou.
The tonalities of the film, all washed out and a little too bright, plus Georges’s car and outfit indicate the 1980s. The mountain hotel Georges seeks out certainly hasn’t had a refit for thirty years and its creaking fixtures and drab décor are the perfect setting for Georges and his jacket. It transpires that we might be in the present, but Georges has got stuck somewhere in the past. He talks about fax machines, has no concept of computers and ditches his mobile phone. We know he was married and that he has a rotten temper, but just how angry Georges is becomes increasingly evident as the film progresses.
As he starts shooting a film, aided by local barmaid and would-be editor Denise (Adele Haenel), that anger surges to the fore and becomes uncontainable. Dupieux makes you laugh when you shouldn’t thanks to the sheer exuberance of Georges’s murderous acts. And in a lovely touch, Denise enables the killing spree thanks to money inherited from her father’s butcher shop, her money passing from butcher to butcher.
At just 77 minutes, this is a very short feature and the story might seem a little insubstantial, yet Dupieux packs in so many wonderful moments – Georges eyeing himself in every reflective surface, for starters, or the amateur filming from behind the fringe of the jacket, plus a couple of outrageous killings – that it feels heftier than its synopsis suggests. Dupieux is aided in this deft bit of filmmaking by his leading man. Dujardin started his career as a stand-up and he has dusted off those comedy skills while inhabiting this monstrous character. He and Haenel have immense fun and provide plenty of laughs in this bonkers film that is very much on the fringe.