I would bet most stateside moviegoers only know Jean Dujardin from his Oscar-winning performance in “The Artist”. It’s unfortunate because he’s a seasoned actor who has shown a dynamic range throughout his nearly 25 year career. The French actor has dabbled in nearly every genre, arguably shining brightest in the area of comedy. He’s a captivating leading man who can do some of everything.
His latest film “Deerskin” may not be the best movie to use as an introduction to Dujardin’s work especially for mainstream audiences. But man is it one entertaining and utterly bonkers ride. Writer-director-editor-cinematographer Quentin Dupieux isn’t up to much of anything nor does he have a lot to say. That’s crucial to understand because I can see “Deerskin” totally confounding those who scour its lean frame for any deeper meaning. Instead it’s 77 minutes of hypnotic deadpan absurdity – a conscious-free black comedy with a wacky dash of grisly horror. Nothing more, nothing less.
Dujardin makes the entire thing work. He plays a middle-aged sad-sack named Georges who has recently separated from his wife. He drives out to an old man’s house in the hills and spends every dime he has to buy a used deerskin jacket. The old man (knowing he has scored big) tosses in a “slightly used” camcorder. Georges tries on the jacket, gazes into the mirror, and utters with unbridled satisfaction “Stoking. Killer style.”
One of the early signs that something’s not right with this man is in his belief that the jacket actually looks great. The dated brown suede with its fringed highlights seems perfect for a hippie from Woodstock or Daniel Boone. Georges, not so much. Aside from being a modern day fashion faux pas, it barely reaches his waist and tightly hugs his slightly chunky torso. But Georges is smitten, overcome with ecstasy and full of newfound yet thoroughly misguided confidence.
He stops at a small alpine inn to stay for a while. But with no money he’s forced to begin building his house of lies. It starts in the local tavern where he meets the impressionable Denise (Adèle Haenel, so good in the Dardenne brothers’ film “The Unknown Girl”). She’s stuck in a dead-end job as a bartender but aspires to be a film editor. When Georges proclaims himself to be a filmmaker who’s in the area to shoot his new movie, the naive Denise is instantly intrigued.
In the meantime Georges develops a ‘personal’ relationship with his jacket. The two begin carrying on conversations with Georges weirdly voicing each side. Turns out they both share similar dreams. The jacket wants to be the only jacket in the world. Georges want to be the only person in the world wearing a jacket. So they essentially set out on a mission to make both of their dreams come true, by any means necessary including violence.
Dupieux’s screenplay fully embraces the absurdity of its idea even as the goofiness eventually gives way to the macabre. Through it all, Dujardin’s straight-faced performance and complete conviction sells the humor and the unease. One minute you’ll be giggling at one of Georges’ ludicrous tall tales which grow more and more far-fetched. At the same time you’re taking a dip into madness, watching a man’s mid-life crisis turn him into a full-blown sociopath.
“Deerskin” will baffle some, probably bore others. It’s unquestionably weird and off-beat, pretty shallow when it comes to story, and has a twisted final act that could be seen as off-putting. But if you come to the movie on its own terms and just go with the nuttiness, you’ll find a wickedly entertaining and devilishly funny yarn that plays by its own bizarre set of rules. And Dupieux, a filmmaker who has a movie about a murderous car tire to his credit, is certainly no stranger to his own bizarre rules.
VERDICT – 4 STARS