From the idiosyncratic mind that wrote and directed the bizarro satire Rubber (2010) comes a decidedly human tale of desperation. Deerskin (Le daim) the latest feature film from French musician-turned-filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, doesn’t rely on any outright anthropomorphism in its tight 77-minutes, but there’s still plenty of effective gimmick.
Rather than a murderous car tire, Deerskin centers on a mysterious middle-aged man named Georges (Jean Dujardin) who, fresh off a divorce, uses his life savings to purchase an authentic deerskin jacket. For reasons mostly unknown, Georges deifies the jacket, foregoing meaningful human contact in favor of a parasitic pseudo-relationship with his new “killer style”.
The film opens as Georges arrives in a small town in the French Alps, using his wedding ring as collateral to secure a stay at a shoddy hotel. A brief phone call with his ex-wife provides the most important dialogue in the whole film: “You’re nowhere, George. You no longer exist.” He’s used his remaining cash to buy the jacket, and now his wife has locked his credit card account.
Luckily, the hotelier is uninterested in specifics and lets him stay in a vacant room on the dubious promise of future payment. Once settled in, Georges begins filming with an old camera that came with the jacket. His motive is unclear, but he begins to amass a good deal of amateur footage – mostly, of course, featuring the new jacket.
Jean Dujardin as Georges and Adèle Haenel as Denise (IMDB)
At night, Georges heads to the only bar in town, tended by a young woman named Denise (Adèle Haenel, effortlessly magnetic as always) who happens to be an amateur film editor. He convinces her that he’s a real director (“my producers are shooting in Siberia,” he says) and soon enlists her services. Over the next few days, George drives around town looking for subjects wearing jackets. He films them taking off their jackets and then steals them, hoping eventually for a world in which he is the only man with a jacket.
In recent years, there’ve been no shortage of films with characters who, disillusioned with polite society, strike out on their own, developing strange obsessions to fill up their days. In David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake (2018), a young man becomes fixated on clues from the universe after the disappearance of a woman who lived in his apartment complex. Lee Chang-dong’s Burning (2018) concerns a recent graduate who convinces himself that a charming man he just met has murdered the the woman he loves.
This trend toward disenchantment begs several possible readings, some of the more obvious being a reaction to the state of the world politically and economically. For young men growing up at the turn of the millennium, the lifestyle portrayed on television, in video games, and on the internet contrasts sharply with reality, where finding stability in work and real-life relationships is a difficult, painstaking task. Not all films that exhibit this trend feature men, of course (think David Zellner’s 2014 Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter), but in the films mentioned above maleness is very much at play.
Following this thread, Georges would be the typical middle-aged divorcee if not for his almost childlike eccentricity. There’s nothing sexual about his budding relationship with Denise. Indeed, his turn toward misanthropy appears to be entirely about jackets. However, Denise generates a theory while editing his footage. She says that the jacket is really a shell protecting him from the outside world, and his inability to accept the fact that other people have those shells, too, is what sets him off. He wants invulnerability, not revenge.
And yet Georges’ jacket jacking spree quickly turns violent, which follows a more traditional midlife crisis formula. Thankfully, Deerskin doesn’t make too much out of murder. It isn’t necessarily a social critique, nor is it an obvious narrative of male domination. As in Rubber, Dupieux undercuts the more serious implications of death and murder with silly black comedy. Although Deerskin isn’t the most thorough film, it’s almost refreshing in that it seems to simply revel in absurdity for absurdity’s sake.
Eventually Denise reveals that she’s known what Georges has been up to all along. So why does she go along with it? The film is certainly stronger on questions than answers. But it’s enough that Dupieux is willing to take gimmicky risks without teetering over the edge into full schlock. Dujardin’s mesmerizing performance, which leans into the black comedy with an eerie stoicism, certainly enhances the overall effect, as does Haenel’s convincing straight-woman foil.
Deerskin exists very much in its own world – one that accepts desperation as a matter-of-fact feature of daily life. Much like in our world, people do what they can to get by: A town hooker tries to seduce Georges at the local bar (he’s completely oblivious to her flirtations); the hotelier commits suicide out of the blue and; a handful of amateur actors are happy to participate in Georges’ strange film as long as they can make a few bucks. But there’s no real sadness to these events, just acceptance.
Quentin Dupieux hasn’t succeeded in making a masterpiece of desperation and disillusionment, but he has repurposed the trend into B-movie kitsch, and there’s something intriguing there, too.