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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Deerskin

This sublimely silly and sometimes savage horror-comedy follows one man's love for his new suede jacket — and his quest to ensure that it's the only jacket in existence.
By Sarah Ward
November 09, 2020
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Deerskin

This sublimely silly and sometimes savage horror-comedy follows one man's love for his new suede jacket — and his quest to ensure that it's the only jacket in existence.
By Sarah Ward
November 09, 2020
  shares

You've heard the first words uttered in Deerskin before, but it's unlikely that you've heard them in this specific order: "I swear never to wear a jacket as long as I live". In the film's opening moments, three people exclaim the phrase as they dump armfuls of clothing into a car boot. Watching on, Georges (The Artist Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin) makes sure that they say the sentence in exactly the right way. The film offers no further explanation at this point, as if these dramatic declarations are the most normal thing in the world. Next, though, it shows Georges putting his own brown corduroy jacket in a public toilet, flushing, and leaving the bowl clogged and overflowing. His subsequent destination finally helps clarify what's going on, at least in part — with Deerskin's protagonist buying himself a new secondhand jacket made from the eponymous material.

How far would you go for the perfect piece of clothing? And can one ideal fashion item completely change your life? They're two completely relatable questions that Deerskin ponders, after aspiring filmmaker Georges takes a strong liking to said Italian-made vintage fringed deerskin jacket. And, we mean strong. Obsessed, fanatical and passionate, even. In the way that anyone can, but that vain, middle-aged, just-divorced men are stereotypically known to, Georges is certain that this one luxurious object is perfect for him. In fact, he thinks he just can't live without it. It doesn't matter that said coat costs him nearly €8000, a price tag that most would stumble over. Similarly irrelevant: that the jacket looks just a tad too small while he's wearing it. Instead, how it makes Georges feel is far more important than any logical drawbacks — to him, at least.  Also pivotal is how it catches the attention of small-town waitress and wannabe film editor Denise (Portrait of a Lady on Fire's Adèle Haenel).

The latest feature by the inimitable Quentin Dupieux (also known, in his electronic music guise, as Mr Oizo), Deerskin luxuriates in Georges' devotion to the newest addition to his wardrobe. Again, that's putting it mildly. The film revels in this fixation to a purposefully absurdist, always amusing and even sometimes comically unnerving extent, especially when it comes to the character's ultimate goal: that his will be the only jacket remaining in the world, and he'll be the only person wearing it. When Georges is told that it's the jacket of his dreams before he makes the hefty purchase, it's one of many similar statements to come. When two women at a bar comment on it, he says that "it's no ordinary jacket", for example. Later, when one of them remarks on his overall appearance, he asks "don't you see my killer style?". And in bed that night, playing with the video camera that came with the coat as a package deal, he vocally and effusively lavishes praise upon the inanimate item.

The above paragraph stresses the point, but so does Deerskin. If you're going to make a movie about a man's crazed fetish for a jacket, his willingness to do anything for it and his belief that it's the only jacket that should exist from this point forward — and his outlandish, even violent actions to make sure that's the case as well — there's no room for being subtle. This is a concept that requires the same level of commitment as Georges' to his beloved possession, and Dupieux doesn't hold back. That's his nature anyway, with Deerskin the latest of the writer/director's movies to fixate on an inanimate object. If you saw the French filmmaker's 2010 cult hit Rubber, about a homicidal car tyre, then you'll know just what kind of weirdness he both relishes in general and unfurls here. Dupieux makes films that instantly seem ridiculous, yet both express and interrogate their central idea with smarts as well as a sense of humour, and Deerskin couldn't better fit the bill.

Still, while this French Alps-set horror-comedy is a typical Dupieux movie through and through, a few things particularly stand out. Indeed, from a resume that also includes 2012's Wrong, 2013's Wrong Cops and 2014's Réalité, this might just be the filmmaker's most accessible film to-date. The deadpan performances, including from a fantastic Dujardin, are a delight. The commentary about consumerism, male egos and the potential brutality of both at their most over-the-top proves as funny as it is astute — and even though it's also rather obvious, it's constantly entertaining. Also, the fact that the movie well and truly knows that it's stretching a thin basic idea to its most overblown extreme means that everything is a joke, and the film is all the better for it. Then there's the visual symbolism, the lingering shots, the beige-hued colour palette and the editing, too, all of which follow their own rhythm as much as anything Dupieux has ever made.

But, perhaps the most impressive element of this warped, weird, always beguiling movie is that — despite the all-round offbeat premise — Dupieux never forgets that he's actually fashioning a love story here. Yes, it's a twisted, troubled romance between a man and his jacket (and, later, his deerskin hat, shoes and pants as well), but it's a romance nonetheless. In a feature that'd make a great double with Peter Strickland's In Fabric, every element of this sublimely silly, sometimes savage, 100-percent suede-coveting film is crafted with that in mind.

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