‘Un style de malade’, which you might translate as ‘mad stylish’ in English, is the phrase Georges (Jean Dujardin) uses to describe the deerskin jacket of his dreams – a conspicuously hideous item with fringes on the front, back and sleeves, on which he expends upwards of €7,000 in the wake of splitting up with his wife. Clearly going through a personal crisis of some sort (he hears the jacket speaking to him), Georges washes up in a small mountainside village with a camcorder that the jacket vendor threw in for free, and one ambition: to become the only jacket-wearing person in the world. With the help of Denise (Adèle Haenel), a young waitress who moonlights as a film editor, Georges sets about filming himself as he begins to rid the world of jackets.
Director Quentin Dupieux
Georges Jean Dujardin
Denise Adèle Haenel
Monsieur B. Albert Delpy
Nicolas Pierre Gommé
Norbert Laurent Nicolas
However hackneyed or self-consciously quirky this premise may sound, Deerskin sets about disarming the spectator from very early on, so that all the movie’s idiosyncrasies appear organic. Dupieux, keeping a tight hand on his edit, tells his story briskly, setting it in a strangely timeless era; the brown, mellow tones of the film are in keeping with consciously musty production values. Old cars, televisions, the camcorder and jacket exist weirdly alongside a post-internet world.
Georges – his name sounding old-fashioned – is an oddity in our era, and Dujardin, at his most loose and fuzzy, relishes teasing out all his rudeness and social unease as he tips further into psychosis. The film gives Dujardin full licence to display his comic verve: scenes of him flushing a corduroy blazer down a toilet, or hurling a brick at a sullen child, are performed with brio. The film tips into violence while losing none of its elegance as an off-kilter comedy of manners: this is down to Dupieux’s craftiness and restraint in these scenes, which filter Georges’s attacks through the prism of his hilariously terrible filmmaking.
Haenel, among the most useful actors of her generation, goes toe to toe with Dujardin in the comedy stakes, opposing an engaging sincerity and flintiness to his derangement as she encourages Georges to carry on his film project. The pair have a steady chemistry and favour naturalistic line readings that sit comfortably in Dupieux’s script full of blunt jokes, archaic slang, black humour and enjoyably self-referential commentary. As Denise tries to find out why the central character in Georges’s film is so fixated on jackets, she says, “I mean, maybe it’s about the jacket all of us wear, all the time, to protect ourselves from others.” Georges: “That could be it.” Denise: “Well, you should know. Is that it?”
Everything seems to operate like clockwork in this spry little film which, at 87 minutes, never over-eggs its slim conceit. There is something very like pure joy to be found in the fumbling repartee between the leads, in the film’s absurd visual lexicon and use of props, and in the sheer lunacy of its vision, which is always tightly reined in by Dupieux’s direction.
An illustration of this can be found in a wonderful scene where the protagonist sneaks up on two teenagers chatting on a bench at the side of a dark road at night: Dupieux cross-cuts between the pair and Dujardin’s meticulously unhinged Georges as he steals up on them, and the camera dwells with delectation on the two adolescent boys as we overhear them arguing about… the difference between a landscaper and a gardener.
It’s this confidence of Dupieux’s in the strength of his language, and the deceptive rigour at work in his filmmaking, that make the eccentricities of Deerskin sing.
Deerskin trailer (French, no subtitles)