The less you know about Deerskin going in, the better. You try to find your bearings by attempting to categorize it—looks a little like a Yorgos Lanthimos film, alludes to Hitchcock’s Psycho and Mary Harron’s American Psycho, and has dark/absurd humor à la Lynch. In truth, director Quentin Dupieux has birthed a very idiosyncratic beast with Deerskin. The beast in question here is a fringed deerskin jacket that most no one would be caught dead in but becomes the obsession of its wearer, Georges (Jean Dujardin).
Georges’s backstory is murky. He appears to have had some trouble in his marriage that has irretrievably broken it. He sets off for the French backwaters, blows all his money on his talisman—the deerskin jacket—which he buys from a quirky older man, and barters his wedding ring for a night’s stay at a lodge that has seen better days. Dujardin’s performance is magnificent in its range. He plays Georges as deranged individual—he converses with and takes orders from the deerskin jacket—as existential drifter, conman, and even plays him as a hopeless dreamer trying to recreate his life in a small town. Along the way, Georges falls into a lie that he is a film director, convinces the lodge’s bartender, Denise (Adèle Haenel), to edit his footage, pays townsfolk to act in his jacket-themed film, and gains even more deerskin apparel along the way—hat, pants, and gloves.
A story about a deranged individual taking orders from a jacket may sound unwatchable. I certainly had my doubts after having very cursory knowledge of the plot. But rest assured. Dupieux commits to the script and makes it work. The film’s pacing is tight; and, clocking in at less than 90 minutes, Deerskin does not prolong its stay. A longer film would have ruined such an absurd premise. Dupieux’s script is also good at showing us how Georges changes. We often assume that change is an internal affair, a mental paradigm shift, a spiritual conversion. Dupieux taps into what every make-up artist, fashion designer, or aesthetician knows—external appearance can change the internal. In Georges’s case, the jacket transforms his psyche.
For a film to work, especially one like this, every part must function on its own and cohere with every other part. Deerskin has all those components–great performances, a solid script, efficient pacing, and narrative themes that keep the viewer interested. Though there are deeper themes running through Deerskin than merely a man obsessed with a jacket, viewers would be well advised not to seek an ultimate interpretation. Seeking an ultimate interpretation with a film like Deerskin is like demobilizing a specimen and putting it on pins. Perhaps the best approach with Deerskin, the only sensible thing to do, is to do like George—put on the jacket and let it direct you.
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