Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr. Oizo, aka “That guy who made that movie about the sentient tire that kills people” is back once again with another idiosyncratic take on absurdist cinema. His latest, Deerskin (Le Daim), stars Academy Award–winning actor Jean Dujardin as a man who loves his deerskin jacket so much, that he sets out on a mission to be the only jacket-wearing human being in the entire world. It’s not an easy task, but its one that our hero takes very seriously…even if it means resorting to his worst tendencies.
After unexplained circumstances lead to Georges leaving his wife and using much of his savings to purchase a gaudy, heavily fringed deerskin jacket, this lonesome traveler finds himself stranded at a rural hotel, with most of his funds frozen. But a chance encounter with a digital camera and an attractive young editor gives him an idea: make a movie, and use the funds from the film to start a new life as the only man in a world with a jacket. And what a jacket it is! It’s appearance frequently renders Georges speechless, but the jacket itself is never short on words. The jacket frequently talks to Georges, giving him inspiration and motivation to complete his film and become the man he was always destined to be (well, at least after taking possession of this wonderful jacket). What will his film be about? Easy. It will be about the jacket, how awesome the jacket is, and how important it is that everyone else ditch their jackets in the name of Georges’ quest.
Sounds stupid, right? Well, yeah, that’s the point. Deerskin gains so much from the fact that it doesn’t really seem to be about anything more than what it is on its surface (a story about a man and his jacket), which gives the audience license to laugh themselves silly at the increasingly violent and absurd story on screen. What’s most amazing about Dupieux’s brand of absurdity is that it frequently runs the risk of being so weird and empty that it loses steam early on. With Deerskin, he finds that sweet spot and holds onto it for the entire runtime. The film never stops being laugh out loud funny.
Credit to the script for keeping it properly weird and fresh, but double credit to the performers for being able to commit to the material with a straight face, keeping the energy properly metered until the film’s knockout of an ending. Jean Dujardin is a skilled clown, and in the years since his award-winning turn in the much maligned (unfairly, if I do say so) The Artist, the actor has aged in a way that lends itself to the type of role he is playing here. His Georges reeks of post-mid-life crisis lashing out, and the spare tire around his middle, in conjunction with his graying beard, makes him feel real. His motivations are familiar, even if his actions are rooted in complete insanity.
Alongside Dujardin is Adéle Haenel as Denise, the enthused editor so interested in Georges’ pending film that she can’t see how hard she’s being swindled by him. She’s sort of the straight man in the duo, but the world of Quentin Dupieux is one that can’t functionally house a straight man. It is a patently ridiculous environment, top to bottom, and if a straight man is ever invoked, he or she is usually the target of derision and contempt. In this case, Denise only has the slightest portion of her foot in the door of reality, which proves to be just enough to keep the film from spiraling beyond the pale and losing a real world reference point against which the absurdity must brush in order to function. It’s an impossible line to walk for too long, which is probably why Deerskin clocks in at just 77 minutes.
There is nobody on the planet making films like Quentin Dupieux, and Deerskin might be his most mature work yet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — “more mature” is a relative term. Deerskin is as gleefully immature as a film can get.
Part of the 2019 Philadelphia Film Festival