‘Deerskin’ Needs More Time to Cure

by Warren Cantrell on April 30, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

A black comedy that is content with just one slice of its characters’ lives, Deerskin [French: Le Daim] sits on the edge of fun and interesting, yet never quite tips over into a realm where either descriptor fits.

Writer/director Quentin Dupieux takes a paltry 74 minutes to tell his story, and while it is indeed contained and self-sufficient within these boundaries, there’s more hinted at beneath the surface of this one that never enjoys appropriate exploration. What audiences get, then, are some great performances and the beginnings of a few interesting ideas that are indeed propped up, yet tumble to the ground absent of any real support.

Deerskin opens with Georges (Jean Dujardin), a grown-ass man, trying to flush his jacket down a toilet. It is not the act of a sane individual (indeed, the toilet just overflows), but when the next scene shows him shelling out over 7000 euros for a used deerskin jacket, any considerations regarding his sanity go out the window. Georges is entranced by the jacket for reasons unknown, forsaking all other considerations (including his marriage) for its well-being, yet when the article of clothing starts speaking to him, things go up a notch.

Georges and the jacket come to an agreement that all other jackets must vanish in a Highlander-esque “there can be only one” scenario. In a small mountain community in rural France far from home, Georges finds out that he’s locked out of his bank account and without any money. Undaunted, Georges doesn’t let this stop him from conning favors from the hapless locals, who he lies to with half-assed tales about being a filmmaker on assignment. When a young bartender, Denise (Adèle Haenel), expresses interest in a film editing career, Georges enlists her in his new “project,” which is really just an excuse to borrow more money from her to keep his mid-life crisis afloat.

Which is to say that Deerskin is a brutally weird movie with a rambling narrative that often feels more interested in its thematic elements than its plot and character ones. If one holds out hope that the film will provide some context or backstory about Georges, and why he has suddenly lost his mind, they will be sorely disappointed. Denise is likewise unexplored and exists only to propel the threadbare plot forward, as the script discards any consideration for why she’d follow this obviously insane man anywhere.

So what is this movie about? Is this a commentary on filmmaking, and how tunnel vision about an idea, even a ridiculous one, must be pursued relentlessly during a production? When things take a decidedly dark turn and Georges begins exerting his will on his “cast,” is this taking the piss out of tyrannical directors who pursue their vision regardless of the cost? At one point, Denise tries to leverage her position as a financier to effect what is essentially a coup on the production, which is perhaps one final dig by Dupieux towards an industry that is increasingly siding with the money over the talent.

It’s an interesting thought that goes pretty much nowhere, opting instead to keep returning to Georges and his ongoing struggle to get a handle on a life that he’s gleefully allowing to spin out of control. As the film progresses, Georges acquires more and more deerskin clothing, from the jacket, to a hat, to pants, and finally gloves. As he takes on more animal layers, he keeps repeating the phrase “killer style,” reflecting not just an outward change, but an internal one as well. Georges is becoming cagier, possessive, demanding, and dangerous, resembling the animal his outer shell adopts. Again, though: just how this ties into the larger narrative or even the aforementioned themes about the obsessive nature of filmmaking is difficult to say.

Dujardin should be commended for finding a palatable frequency with his performance to balance the frantic man-child aspects of his character with a sinister and increasingly animalistic bent. Georges is unstable, that much is clear from the opening minutes, but Dujardin’s performance inspires the audience to care despite all the madness, and this couldn’t have been easy considering the script. Haeneldoes even better in her role as Denise, exuding an enigmatic yet alluring presence that forces one to wonder who amongst the two is crazier.

It is a layered performance that deserves more development than what’s provided here, and that’s the problem, really. Deerskin is an interesting movie with weirdly compelling characters doing some outrageous shit, yet the narrative dots just do not connect. Who is Georges, and what inspired this sudden break in sanity (if indeed he was ever sane to begin with)? If that doesn’t matter, then there needs to be more meat on the bone in the sleepy French village Georges finds himself in, for this feels like half of a first act, too much of a second, and none of a third.

Opening today on VOD and also as part of Greenwich Entertainment’s virtual cinema initiative so patrons can support their local theater during this difficult time, Deerskin looks interesting, and like the fringe on Georges’ jacket, dazzles at times with its frivolity, yet never comes close to forming a complete picture of a unified effort. Much like a jacket without any matching articles to compliment it, this one provides warmth and comfort for a time, but is betrayed by a lack of coordination elsewhere.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.

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