Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel Wear Forced Weirdness Well in French Oddity.
DIRECTED BY QUENTIN DUPIEUX/FRENCH/2020 (U.S. Release)
DVD STREET DATE: JUNE 30, 2020/GREENWICH; KINO LORBER
Fair warning, this consideration of Quentin Dupieux’s darkly tempered comedy Deerskin (Le Daim) contains what some may call “spoilers”. Others, though, may argue that a movie about Jean Dujardin in an unhealthy relationship with his fringed deerskin jacket is impossible to spoil. You know who you are. Or, maybe you do not. In any case, zip up; we must move forward… to a small town somewhere in France…
Listen to your heart. That is the message of so many movies. But what if you can’t do that? Then, you could opt to listen to the next closest thing: your jacket. That’s exactly what the aimless and apparently soulless Georges (Dujardin) does. The advice he gets is, one might say, particularly jacket centric. While the real world certainly has its share of dumber voices that people cling to, the fact that Georges blindly follows the jacket’s commands does not culminate in what would be considered socially acceptable results. The jacket is a jealous jacket, decreeing what any obsessive power-hungry piece of questionable high-end out outerwear would decree: There will be no other jackets before me.
The jacket, in its infrequent disembodied voice-over, doesn’t actually use that phrasing. Nevertheless though, Georges’ quest to destroy all jackets- yes, every other jacket in the world– is officially ON.
But to be fair, Georges’s jacket is rather hard to deny. Per the film’s English language title, it is in fact the coolest classic deerskin jacket you ever did see, complete with all the fringe intact. (Which is a major selling point in the financially draining big-money exchange that nets Georges this wonderful and horrible garment). Georges may be a wandering empty shell who takes the old adage of clothes making the man far too literally, but his sense of style is admittedly not for the hoi polloi. As the film goes on, he manages to accessorize accordingly. On an occasional b-roll track, a stock footage deer looks on with resigned detachment. Is it seeing the future of its own outer hide? Or that of a fellow four-legged acquaintance or family member? Does it know? Does it care? Can it care? Can Georges care? Should we care?
Dupieux’s whole thing seems to be making offbeat films the likes of which have not been seen in a Director’s Fortnight. Yet, that’s exactly where Deerskin landed when shove came to push at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. (Yes, this is what played at what is currently the last Festival de Cannes). His primary motivation seems to be daring film analysts to “Unpack this!” It’s not that a film with a 3am-pepperoni-pizza-induced fever-dream premise can’t also be deeply affecting and rife with truth (look no further than Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep, one of the most astute films about growing old ever made), but when the absurdity of the logline outweighs any emotional or intellectual takeaway, that’s a red flag.
It’s also not that Deerskin lacks ideas or even feeling; it’s simply that at this moment, less than twelve hours post-viewing, I’m struggling to retain those ideas or feelings. Meanwhile, the urge to go tell friends that I just watched a warped French movie where the guy who won the Oscar for The Artist goes on a killing spree (with a weaponized ceiling fan blade, no less) in order to have the last jacket on Earth remains strong. Clearly, that’s what this movie is really all about.
The most predictable thing that Deerskin delivers is the raft-load of pull-quotes from aging (and, it’s safe to say, generally male) critics who traffic most vocally in “edgy” cinema. “Bat-sh*t crazy!” -Film Threat. Or, to a lesser degree, “A loopy, entertaining WTF lark” -Variety. While it’s true that several other venerable outlets have also positively chimed in, one can nonetheless practically see the ghost of Badass Digest hovering over the film’s desolate landscape itching to contribute, “Pants-sh*ttingly awesome!!”
As a critic of that age who long ago made the decision to opt out of that school of sophomoric crudity (it truly is so very unbecoming, is it not?), it’s easy to stand to one side and dismiss the work of Dupieux (remember, this is the guy who’s most famous work is the killer tire film, Rubber) as fan service for this too-large segment of established voices and energy-drink-drunk fanboys. But that kind of dismissal doesn’t land one on DVD cover of Deerskin now, does it?
But, enough of this old man yelling at clouds. For all of that, Deerskin is actually a very engaging watch, and not at all a poorly achieved piece of work. (Three and a half out of five stars on Letterboxd from me). Nobody’s phoning it in, particularly not Dujardin (mining legitimate engagement from a figuratively blank-slate character) or his most welcome co-star, Adèle Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire).
Haenel plays Denise, a young hotel bartender who longs to be a professional film editor. Initially taken in by Georges’s claim that he’s in town directing a movie while his crew is away in Siberia, she gladly gets involved with his fabricated production. His mini-DV taped footage of him ogling his jacket fascinate her enough to lend him money, which he promptly blows on more deerskin garments. She’s reading all sorts of subtext into his ridiculous efforts, which he’s incapable of confirming or denying. But don’t feel too badly for Denise. She is obviously intended to be a sort of audience surrogate, and no, she’s not stupid.
Deerskin arrives quite modestly on DVD courtesy of its stateside distributor Greenwich, by way of Kino Lorber. Say what one might about this this movie (and I have), it’s not un-entertaining nor un-engaging. Also, it’s not poorly shot. It has a weirdly subtle ghostly haze about it, but somehow that suits it. So why not a Blu-ray release? Let’s face it, DVD isn’t exactly the deerskin jacket of home video these days. There are no extra features whatsoever except for a string of Greenwich trailers, which don’t count. All of which means, with the film clocking in at a mere seventy-seven minutes, one could wrap up this entire DVD experience in under ninety minutes. As a matter a fact, I did. Which, although a few bonus features might’ve been appreciated, was kind of nice.
Watch and enjoy Deerskin, but don’t get carried away. One can’t help but postulate that Dupieux wields his fans the way Georges wields his ceiling fan blade: as a weapon against the unsuspecting outside world. While the cinematic flare is undeniable, the bloody bludgeoning is inevitable. There’s far from nothing to postulate upon, but we do so at our own risk. Because if you’re not onboard for that from the outset, then you don’t get to wear the jacket. The jacket… wears you.