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After making, among others, a movie about a tire with a killer instinct and a film about telepathy between humans and animals — Rubber (2010) and Wrong (2012), respectively — why not also tell a story about a guy who falls head-over-heels in love with his fringed suede jacket? It’s all in a day’s work for French oddball musician and occasional director Quentin Dupieux, who opened the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight this year with his slight but quite amusing Deerskin (Le Daim).
The Artist star Jean Dujardin plays a clueless wannabe filmmaker who’ll go to great lengths to become the sole person on the planet — or at least the mountain village where he’s checked into a creepy hotel — to actually wear a coat. And it is Dujardin’s presence that’ll ensure a greater measure of visibility than usual for a Dupieux project. But despite a few good gags and committed performances, the nagging suspicion that this eccentric concept would’ve worked better as a medium-length work or even a short remains. It’ll be released in France on June 19.
The film, in the washed-out colors familiar from Dupieux’ previous work, opens with a strange scene that sees three youths line up and, one after the other, dump their jackets into the trunk of a beat-up old Audi while they solemnly proclaim: “I swear to never wear a jacket again for as long as I live.” This later turns out to be part of a film-within-a-film that’s being shot, with a tiny camcorder and zero cinema experience, by Georges (Dujardin), a deadbeat dumped by his wife. Perhaps as a way to deal with his misfortune, he has driven to a small village in the Alps to buy a $9,000 jacket made of the titular material from an elderly slob (Julie Delpy’s actor father Albert, in a cameo). Never mind that it’s kinda small on his burly frame: George feels like, well, nine thousand bucks.
As a bonus, the old man gives Georges an old camcorder, which becomes the prop that informs the lie that he’s actually in town to make a film (he’s supposedly alone because his fancy producers are in Siberia for an elaborate fight scene). This duly impresses the local bartender, Denise (Adele Haenel, from BPM), an amateur editor and full-time gamine who becomes involved in Georges’ completely improvised plan to make a mockumentary. The subject is a ruthless man much like him, who will do anything to become the sole person in the world allowed to wear the only jacket left in existence, so his prized new possession can finally truly shine; the coat is a supposed metaphor for the hard shell we all need to shield ourselves from the harsh outside world.
Dupieux, who, as usual, also wrote the screenplay and handled camera duties, has lost none of his sense of mischief. There are a few very amusing moments, including a nightly encounter with a woman who incorrectly guesses the type of film Georges is shooting and another scene in which the sad-sack protagonist tries to get his wedding ring off the corpse of a hotel clerk who committed suicide by shooting himself in the face. Denise’s deadpan explanation of her experience with the scrambled chronology of Pulp Fiction is also worth a laugh while Deerskin’s ending is brilliantly futile, which feels entirely fitting for such an absurd story, even if narrative momentum is abruptly cut short.
But the actual plot is, of course, wafer-thin and the whole thing would fall apart if it weren’t for the committed performance from Dujardin. The actor, in a graying beard and with unkempt hair, has played this kind of crazy and opportunistic loser before, most recently in last year’s I Feel Good but also going back all the way to his creation of Brice de Nice, which turned him into a movie star. Here, too, his Georges feels fully inhabited even though we only get a tiny sliver of backstory. When he starts speaking to his suede jacket on a clothes stand and then impersonates the jacket’s voice so the two can have a dialogue, it feels just like something a desperate, lonely and self-satisfied man like Georges would do. Denise and all other parts are really supporting players who are witnesses to — and occasionally unwitting participants in — Georges’ private madness.
In terms of its world building, Dupieux and the production and costume designers have made a serious effort to ground things in a more recognizable reality than in most of the director’s previous outings. But the filmmaker’s tendency to only use violence for laughs and ignore its real-life consequences undermines this attempt to inject some gravitas into Deerskin’s otherwise lovingly detailed backdrop. Somewhat oddly, the musician and director didn’t provide a score himself this time around, instead fully relying on pre-existing music.
Production companies: Atelier de production, Arte France Cinema, Nexus Factory, Umedia, Garidi Films
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adele Haenel, Albert Delpy, Pierre Gomme, Laurent Nicolas, Coralie Russier
Writer-Director: Quentin Dupieux
Executive producers: Thomas Verhaeghe, Mathieu Verhaeghe
Director of photography: Quentin Dupieux
Production designer: Joan Le Boru
Costume designer: Isabelle Pannetier
Editor: Quentin Dupieux
Sales: WT Films
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight — Opening Film)
No rating, 75 minutes
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