Deerskin (2019)

Coming off like an unbridled hybrid of a lost Twilight Zone episode, an R-rated Monty Python sketch, and a slasher movie by way of Quentin Tarantino, Deerskin, from QT-namesake Quentin Dupieux, is a far-left-of-centre offering about one man’s violent obsession (fetish, even) with his suede jacket.

Jean Dujardin is Georges, a man with little-to-no backstory who, we suspect, is in a mid-life crisis of sorts after separating from his wife – the only clear slice of history we are privy to.  From the moment he purchases the aforementioned jacket for nearly 8000 euros we understand his slightly unhinged mind-frame, and when the seller throws in a digital camera as a sweetener, Georges suddenly finds a new late-in-life purpose, one that will assist in his gradual downward spiral towards insanity.

Holed up in a hotel room that he is only able to afford thanks to using his wedding ring as collateral – we learn his ex-wife has frozen his accounts – the crumbling loneliness of his existence is reflected in the obsession he has over this coat; given that the film opens with a trio of characters talking directly to the camera and professing they will never wear a coat again signals the bizarre narrative that is to come.

It isn’t long before Georges’ loneliness manifests into schizophrenia as he starts to converse with the coat, growing more and more paranoid by the day regarding his status as the only resident in the town that’s allowed to wear such clothing; and, no, the coat hasn’t become conscious in any manner in these conversations, nor are we privy to ventriloquism, rather we very much see Georges’ lips moving when he’s speaking as the coat, further signalling his lost grip on reality.

As much as Deerskin functions as a representation of one’s own loss of lucidity, Dupieux’s script can’t help but also feel like an absurdist take on the toxicity of masculinity that so often consumes men who confuse their machoism with ego and privilege.  Dujardin manages to toe the line carefully between subtlety and dementedness, but never over-doing it to the point where it feels like a caricature.  As outlandish as the situation at hand is, Dujardin manages to make it feel incredibly organic, which only adds to the sinister tone the film eventually adopts; Georges’ solution for being the only person in town with a coat winds up being wildly inventive and shockingly violent.

Equally as good as Dujardin is Adele Haenel (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), the film’s seeming voice of reason.  As a lowly bartender who, at first, appears as another gullible on-looker, she gradually inserts herself into Georges’ surroundings as she expresses her interest in film editing, a hook that comes into play when Georges passes himself off as a filmmaker; the recently acquired digicam serving its purpose beyond anyone’s expectations.

Audiences who are hoping that there’ll be a more substantial story built around Dupieux’s subverted plot will be disappointed as Deerskin makes no apologies for its shortcomings, both narratively and literally (it clocks in at a tight 77 minutes).  But it’s in that absurdity that the film thrives, basking in the surreal and the satirical, creating a niche that may be rejected by the masses but is sure to be lovingly embraced by a select audience that should be completely on board to surrender to this cult-classic in waiting.

Deerskin is screening across select Australian cinemas from August 6th 2020.

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