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DIRECTED BY: Quentin Dupieux
FEATURING: Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel
PLOT: A middle-aged man becomes obsessed with his new deerskin jacket.
COMMENTS: “Sorry, but isn’t your movie weird?” One suspects Quentin Dupieux lifted that line verbatim from his own life experiences for this screenplay. It’s one of many self-references in Deerskin, whose main character is a delusional fraud[efn_note]Neither I nor, I believe, Quentin Dupieux believe that Quentin Dupieux is a delusional fraud—the metaphor plays out more like a meta-joke at the expense of artistic self-doubt.[/efn_note] posing as an independent filmmaker while undergoing a midlife crisis.
Never fear, Deerskin—a movie about a man, a leather jacket, and the destructive pledge that binds the two together—is indeed a weird movie. But considering the manic maximalism of Dupieux’s last major outing—2014’s Reality, which seemed like it had about fifteen interweaving subplots in a dreams-inside-of-dreams structure—Deerskin is relatively restrained, focused on only two major characters and a single absurd conceit. In that sense, it’s almost a Buñuelian film. Indeed, aside from the odd opening (which will be explained later) and a scene of Jean Dujardin flushing his corduroy jacket down a public toilet, nothing beyond the moderately quirky occurs in the film’s first fifteen minutes. Dujardin’s character is clearly not all there, and occasional horror movie violin strikes suggest looming disaster, but it’s not until his deerskin jacket starts talking back to him that Dupieux leans into the scenario’s inherent eccentricity. The idea that we see the film from Dujardin’s insane perspective “explains” his strange activities for the rest of the movie, and perhaps makes it more palatable for general audiences not accustomed to the dream-logic universes Dupieux typically creates.
Dupieux likely slows down the craziness in order to take advantage of Dujardin’s presence. The stately actor is Deerskin‘s biggest asset, and the movie is almost Dupieux’s take on a character study. We suspect that the idea of an abstract, arty study of a man in the midst of an existential crisis is what attracted the French star to the project. Ruggedly handsome, if growing a bit paunchy, with a distinguished touch of grey in his beard, Dujardin creates a character who is deeply insecure and ridiculous—because he’s both vain and a bit dim. Unmoored and wandering, fleeing a relationship for reasons unstated, Dujardin gives his withered self-confidence a coat of luster with the deerskin jacket, which he believes gives him a “killer style” that everyone envies and talks about. But, in his mind, it’s not enough that he own the world’s coolest jacket—wouldn’t it be better if he owned the world’s only jacket?
The jacket concurs.
I don’t know if Deerskin‘s subdued style really fits Dupieux’s talents. He’s always been an over-the-top auteur with a unique voice, and his lack of restraint in focusing his ideas has always been a key part of that voice. I can’t say that maturity and self-reflection fits him any better than Dujardin’s too-tight jacket fits his character. Although Deerskin may be a bit easier for the neophyte to buy into than Dupieux’s previous larks, I’d still recommend the novice start off by jumping into the deep end with the slasher spoof Rubber, where the director sets out his bold manifesto of “no reason.” You can circle back to Deerskin later and see if you think the director is aging gracefully, or if he needs a truly wild midlife crisis of his own to remind him of his youth.
Deerskin is a victim of 2020’s pandemic, unable to receive even the usual limited release in theaters. Distributor Greenwich Entertainment is releasing it online and sharing half the revenue with the local theaters who would usually screen it; you can find a list of participating institutions at this link. The movie hits home video in late June.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“‘Deerskin’ is funny, weird and original; it features two charismatic stars, and it does everything it needs to do in only 77 minutes.”–Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle (contemporaneous)