Deerskin review: Jean Dujardin is dressed to kill in Quentin Dupieux’s latest surreal comedy

Deerskin, the latest entry in the Dupieuxverse, is an oddly engrossing, off-kilter comedy about a man who develops an all-too-unhealthy fetish for his fringed suede jacket.

Prahlad Srihari May 17, 2019 12:43:31 IST

4/5

Quentin Tarantino's star-studded Manson-era drama Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is obviously the most eagerly awaited film this year at Cannes. Meanwhile, his French namesake Quentin Dupieux has brought his latest metaWTF, Deerskin (Le daim in French), to the Directors' Fortnight section of the festival. The queues outside Theatre Croisette were bursting at the seams for the film's premiere — and the fortunate few who made it inside kept bursting into fits of laughter through the course of its one-hour-17-minute runtime.

Deerskin review Jean Dujardin is dressed to kill in Quentin Dupieuxs latest surreal comedy

Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in Deerskin. Festival de Cannes

Dupieux's films often feel like they take place in some unexplored realm, hidden between the goofiest Monty Python sketches and The Twilight Zone — a world where tires go on homicidal rampages and human-dog telepathists thrive. Deerskin, the latest entry in the Dupieuxverse, is an oddly engrossing, off-kilter comedy about a man who develops an all-too-unhealthy fetish for his fringed suede jacket.

Jean Dujardin plays Georges, a man with no clear backstory. But we do know he recently separated from his wife and may be suffering from a midlife crisis as a result. He pays close to 8000 euros for a vintage deer jacket and gets an old-fashioned digicam as a deal sweetener. He holes up in a local hotel by giving his wedding ring as collateral after his wife blocks his bank account. Alone in his hotel room, his obsession over his jacket signifies the progressively crumbling state of his mind. He spends the odd evenings at the bar, where he meets a seemingly gullible bartender Denise (Adèle Haenel), a wannabe film editor who re-edits existing films for a hobby. She once edited the storyline of Pulp Fiction in chronological order and confesses it was a disaster.

Soon, Georges' loneliness and obsession spiral into schizophrenia as he begins to engage in coversations with his jacket. No, it hasn't become sentient, like the tire in Rubber. There are no ventriloquism tricks here as Dupieux shows Dujardin clearly moving his lips when he's speaking as the jacket. The jacket desires to be the only one of its kind in the world and convinces him to commit a genocide of all its kin. But as the jacket owners refuse to let go of their outer garments, Georges is forced to take homidical measures.

Deerskin functions as a character study of a man's downward spiral into insanity, fuelled by loneliness. But there's an additional dimension to it as always: an absurdist riff on Hollywood's toxic narratives of masculinity and machismo. Dujardin's performance is at times subtle, at times showy but never less than remarkable. Haenel too displays her range as she begins to wear the pants in their relationship later in the film.

Deerskin review Jean Dujardin is dressed to kill in Quentin Dupieuxs latest surreal comedy

Director Quentin Dupieux and cast members Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel pose during a photocall before the screening of Deerskin presented as part of the Quinzaine des Realisateurs/Director's Fortnight. Reuters/Regis Duvignau

Filled with post-modern self-reflexions, Dupieux's films have always had a strange internal logic and a language of their own. From Rubber to Deerskin, his films feel like ridiculous genre experiments — and the pranks of a master surrealist. He satirises the myths and meta-narratives upon which many popular stories are built.

Deerskin's absurd premise, however, would have been better served if Dupieux had looked to not just subvert traditional film tropes but built a more substantial narrative around it — something Tarantino has mastered over his career. While Dupieux and Deerskin are both destined for cult greatness, the jury's still out on whether they can win the hearts of mainstream audiences.

Deerskin had its world premiere in the Director's Fortnight section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

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