Christianity counts the following among the signs of the Apocalypse: Death saddling up a pale horse, stars plummeting from the sky, kings hiding under rocks, and seven angels making a racket on their trumpets. “Quentin Dupieux making an accessible film” doesn’t show up in the Book of Revelations, but lo, death abounds all the world over, an asteroid 1.5 miles wide recently hurtled by Earth, and Dupieux’s latest bizarro ode to cinema, Deerskin, is screening virtually while the angelic host’s brass remains silent. John of Patmos got it all wrong.
Out of context, “accessible Dupieux” is oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp,” “bittersweet,” and “compassionate conservative,” but Deerskin, though every bit as strange as is to be expected from the Parisian DJ-cum-electronic musician-cum-filmmaker, makes sense without undercutting the qualities that define Dupieux’s body of work. It’s entirely unlike every other movie presently enjoying a last-minute VOD release, being a well-made, proudly weird, genre-agnostic commentary on themes ranging from middle age male vanity to navel-gazing, self-obsessed independent cinema. Unlike Dupieux’s prior work, à la Rubber, Wrong and Reality, Deerskin’s determination to explain itself as little as possible is complemented by its internal logic. The delight the film takes in the script’s eccentricities is inviting rather than alienating.
Anchoring that abundance of quirk is Jean Dujardin, playing Georges, a man who at the start of Deerskin sacrifices everything—his savings, and so it seems his marriage—to purchase a vintage deerskin jacket from an old hermit (Albert Delpy) in a sleepy hamlet in the Alps. Georges likes the way he looks; he’s infatuated with his reflection, and over the course of the movie he replaces every piece of his wardrobe with all things deerskin. Pants. Boots. Hat. But merely bedecking his body in leathery style isn’t enough. His fixation escalates. The camera the hermit tossed him as a freebie becomes a tool of domination as Georges goes about gulling strangers into handing their own coats over to him under the guise of shooting a movie.
The only person not immediately put off by Georges’ mania is Denise (Adèle Haenel), a bartender at the hotel he has checked into indefinitely (or at least for as long as he can stretch his false promise to pay for accommodations). She’s an amateur editor, and she wants to help Georges make his “movie,” which, as Deerskin gains in madness, expands to include murder: Any fool who refuses to surrender their outerwear suffers at the business end of Georges’ improvised machete, a ceiling fan blade sharpened to lethal effect. The Dupieux of 2010 might’ve broken the fourth wall to wink at his audience, and bloviate about Deerskin’s subtextual meaning using an ancillary character as his in-movie mouthpiece. The Dupieux of 2020 embraces his oddness and invites viewers to do the same, and the picture is all the better for it.
Restraint, even in a black comedy laced with charm and gory carnage, is a virtue, and it’s Deerskin’s best merit. Coming in a very close second is Dujardin’s performance, simultaneously low-key and commanding: He keeps his cards close to the fringe vest, an inscrutable presence in a story hanging on his every move. Georges makes no secret of his dream (or is it the jacket’s dream?) to be the only person in the world to wear a coat. It’s the motive that’s elusive. But the elusion is part of Deerskin’s pleasure, and Dupieux’s filmmaking persuades viewers to embrace the inexplicable. Fashion is worth suffering for. Here, it’s worth killing for.
Director: Quentin Dupieux
Writer: Quentin Dupieux
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Adèle Haenel, Albert Delpy
Release Date: May 1, 2020
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.