Cannes 2019

Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin

On Film / The Daily — May 16, 2019
Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin (2019)

Quentin Dupieux, known to French electronic music enthusiasts as composer and DJ Mr. Oizo, began cutting records and making music videos at around the same time in the late 1990s. Two features, Nonfilm (2002) and Steak (2007), slipped by more or less unnoticed before Dupieux broke through and established his own unique profile as a try-anything absurdist with Rubber (2010), in which a lone car tire cuts loose and heads out on a homicidal rampage. More whimsy followed with Wrong (2012), Wrong Cops (2013—not a sequel!), and Reality (2014), and now Dupieux has opened this year’s Directors’ Fortnight, the independent program running parallel to the Cannes Film Festival, with Deerskin, starring Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Adèle Haenel (The Unknown Girl).

Dujardin plays Georges, a bearded middle-aged man who spends several thousand euros on a designer deerskin jacket. Most critics agree that the jacket looks silly, but Georges is convinced it gives him “killer style.” Short of money now, he strikes up two dialogues. He pitches a movie project to Denise (Haenel), a waitress who’s practicing to become a film editor by recutting Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) so that it plays in chronological order. Her verdict: “It sucks!” Georges’s other conversation is with the jacket, who urges him to do anything it takes to ensure that he’s the only man in the world sporting such a spiffy jacket.

Watching Deerskin, Screen’s Allan Hunter found himself wondering, “Are we witnessing a form of mental breakdown or are the seeds being sewn for an ‘origins’ portrait of an implacable serial killer? There are all kinds of hints and teases for movie buffs with echoes of Dead of Night (1945) or Peeping Tom (1959) in Georges’s relationship with an inanimate object and his desire to record his lethal actions.” For Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, Deerskin is “a warped fable of no great consequence, though the fact that it holds you, for seventy-seven minutes, is a testament to the debauched rigor of Dupieux’s filmmaking. He shot and edited the film, and he works in a meticulous, realistic, blow-by-blow style, leading the audience, right along with Georges, into a vortex of weirdly logical irrationality (i.e., the mind of a psychopath).”

At RogerEbert.com, Ben Kenigsberg points out that Dupieux “sets up a not-at-all subtle parallel between Georges’s ego and the singleminded determination of a filmmaker” and “complements this auto-critique with deliberately ugly camera work. You’d have to be as crazy as Georges to think this movie looks sharp.” Blake Williams, dispatching to Filmmaker,  agrees, arguing that Dupieux’s “risk-taking pales in comparison to Georges’s own DIY effort, suggesting that the better film in this project is the one buried in the diegesis.”

But for Leonardo Goi, writing for the Notebook, Deerskin is “a surrealist and rollicking take on commodity fetishism and the masculinities that come attached to it—a bonkers ride as surreal as the nuttiest of Dupieux’s gonzo comedies, and yet possibly more lucid and savage a satire than any of his previous offerings.” At the A.V. Club, A. A. Dowd finds that Dujardin, “in what may be his most restrained comic performance,” seals the deal by committing to “the pathetic, deranged pathology of the character.” Dupieux tells Cineuropa’s Fabien Lemercier that his work with Dujardin “wasn’t about creating a performance. Here, it was the opposite, it was finding excellence in nothingness, in the actor who doesn’t act.”

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