Strange, unhinged and twisted – Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin is an oddly discomforting but humorous affair.
“Killer style!” says Jean Dujardin, as he smiles with satisfaction while looking in the mirror. What he sees is something he’s always wanted to the point of obsession – a fringed deerskin jacket, straight out of the 60s. What we see is something rather different – a portly, middle- aged man in a jacket that’s easily two sizes too small and sits awkwardly with his office shirt and trousers.
As Deerskin progresses, the jacket is joined by boots, trousers, a hat and gloves, all made from his favourite leather and reinforcing the image he wants for himself. But, as in that early moment, what we see is the complete opposite. A man with an off-kilter sense of reality who, having left his wife, arrives in a mountain village and poses as a filmmaker while pursuing a dream to become the only person in the world wearing a jacket. And anybody refusing to surrender their jacket to him gets short shrift – in the shape of a lethally sharpened ceiling fan blade.
Strange? Yes, to the point of being unhinged. Twisted? Definitely. In the hands of director Quentin Dupieux, this is a portrait of a midlife crisis, with Dujardin almost unrecognisable from the elegance we saw in The Artist. A dark comedy? Dark to the point of black, with more than a hint of Ben Wheatley in the way it balances humour with almost Punch And Judy style violence. Also making sure the tone stays on track is an enjoyably deadpan performance from Adele Haenel as the aspiring filmmaker drawn into Dujardin’s crazy mission: her face hardly ever cracks a smile but there’s always the sense that perhaps she’s not as naïve as she appears.
It’s a small story, inconsequential even, and one that’s hard to buy into, but the fact that it holds on to your attention for all of its 77 minutes says a lot for the combination of Dupieux’s overall filmmaking – even when Dujardin’s Georges has conversations with that fringed jacket – and the humour he manages to draw out of an increasingly ludicrous narrative. But there’s a downside: a nagging feeling that he’s toying with us, enjoying watching our confusion from the sidelines and, dare we say it, simply showing off. It adds to the discomfort that goes with watching his oddity of a film, along with the thought that it isn’t quite as clever as he thinks it is.
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