The great French actor gives his best performance to date in Quentin Dupieux’s loopy comedy about a man obsessed with his jacket
Deerskin’s path to UK cinemas – it was an audience favourite at the London Film Festival in 2019, and its country-wide rollout was pushed back (twice!) in 2020 – has been fittingly difficult for this bizarre shaggy dog story, a film that amounts to very little but is delivered with so much panache that it barely seems to matter.
The premise of Quentin Dupieux’s latest is tantalising: what if a man really loved his coat? Georges (Jean Dujardin) leaves Paris in a state of array, shooting down the motorway to an isolated mountain area to buy a deerskin jacket from a man he met online. Paying several thousand euros, and getting a mini-DV camcorder as part of the bargain, Georges then drives around the region, where he takes a hotel room from which he obsessively models his purchase. As he basks in the “killer style” of his new look, filming himself in the mirror, the jacket begins to speak to him. And it tells Georges that it wants to be the only jacket in the world.
Deerskin pulls off this premise, and all the dark places it then goes to, through sheer conviction of style. Dupieux shoots with a faux-naturalistic handheld that lurches straight for psychological intensity. Acting as his own cinematographer and editor, the filmmaker brightens each frame a little, subtly pulling the viewer out of a true horror metier with the comfort of light. This dissonance – the colours of a sitcom, and the content of a Lars von Trier joint – creates a third unsettling space that Deerskin mines for black comic moments.
At its centre, Dujardin gives perhaps his greatest performance. With stiff physicality, and a deadened masculine rage behind his eyes, he returns to OSS 117 super spy mode, though is playing it straight. But every serial madman needs an assistant. Eventually Georges enlists Denise (Adèle Haenel), a local bartender, to edit his “film.” She is impressed by the nonsensical footage he’s shot of his coat, and brags that she once edited Pulp Fiction into the right order. Together, they have an easy chemistry, Haenel going from eye-rolls to eyes-wide as she learns more about Georges’ true intentions.
At just 77 minutes, Deerskin is a perfect midnight movie. You may be right to scoff at Dupieux’s overall points about the savage nature of society – we might even call this the French Joker, since Arthur Fleck had killer style, too – but even when this director doesn’t seem to believe in what he's pushing, the film is too entertaining to resist. Dupieux is more interested in making his actors look like fools, and seeing how far he can stretch his premise. If Deerskin is insincere filmmaking, it’s also the most fun you can have while being fed a lie.
Deerskin is showing in cinemas from 16 July.Where to watch