When we first meet Georges (Jean Dujardin), he has already begun his journey of transformation driving through the remoter edges of alpine France. We can sense from the way he fidgets that all is not right with the hero of DEERSKIN. And when he stops at a roadside gas station to flush his jacket down the toilet, it’s clear that something is more than just a little off with him. As the water overflows, he coolly walks away with a new sense of purpose, the which, it turns out, hinges on the purchase of a vintage deerskin jacket, resplendent in all its fringed glory. That is accentuates Georges’ paunch in all its equally resplendent ill-fitting glory does not register with him at all. He is a new man, albeit one adrift in more ways than one, as we learn in bits and pieces, but never with a full accounting in this droll, intellectually sparkling consideration of absurdity and madness in both the real and reel world.
Filmmaker Quentin Dupieux takes well-aimed shots at filmmaking and the cult of self run amok. as Georges, gifted with an analog camera thrown in as lagniappe with his dream coat, is mistaken for a filmmaker by the Denise (Adèle Haenel), the hotel bartender. It prompts him to instantly assumes the role, taking it to extremes in the name of realism. When she reveals herself to be a student of film editing, reconstructing PULP FICTION, for example, so that it is transformed from revolutionary to pedestrian, Georges pounces. Short of cash with which to pay his hotel bill, or buy new film for his camera, he hires Denise with a stream of glib patter about launching her career, only to borrow money from her in order to keep afloat. A tall tale of producers stuck in Siberia is accepted without question by the bartender eager for escape from a dead-end existence, and together the two of them enter into a folie-à-deux. Or rather, a folie-à-trois, as Georges’ running, if one-sided, conversations with his new attire become two-sided as the jacket reveals its dearest wish, one that dovetails perfectly with Georges’, and which leads to tragic results as man and jacket long for a uniqueness that neither of them possess, nor ever will.
Dujardin, so vibrant and effortlessly charming in his Oscar™-winning performance in THE ARTIST, is here much quieter, even while wielding a home-made machete. His scenes with Denise, as he invents a filmmaking life out of whole cloth, have the distinct and menacing pathos of desperation that knows no bounds, even as he catches Georges’ synapses going into overdrive as he spins his fantasies with a deliberate sense of conviction, and bemused gratitude as he muddles through Denise’s sublimely esoteric interpretations of his piecemeal footage that she examines minutely, but entirely fails to grasp. Dupieux may be dark, but he is also counter-intuitively playful as he tosses in quick, non-sequitor shots of a deer gazing quizzically at the camera, and a moment of supreme self-reference as Georges, defiles a corpse (and himself), blandly noting that what he is about to do is gross.
Told with a keen style that deconstructs the deadly earnestness of an auteur who is not quite as clever as he thinks he is, Dupieux’s DEERSKIN presents a sneaky, very black comedy that is at once a slick parody and a sharp commentary on modern pretension and pathological self-absorption.