by Anton Bitel
“The real subject of the film is the jacket. Or rather, your jacket. Or rather, the fact that we all hide behind a shell to protect us from the outside world.”
Bar waitress and amateur film editor Denise (Adèle Haenel) addresses these words to Georges (Jean Dujardin), seeing right through this schlubby middle-aged stranger who has come to her mountain town armed with the prized “100% deerskin” jacket that he recently purchased for himself and the “almost new” digital camera that was thrown in by the vendor (Albert Delpy) as part of the deal. Georges has claimed, in a barroom boast, to be a filmmaker – but really he is just a lonely loser who has been kicked out by his wife, and is now exhibiting all the signs of a man in the depths of a mid-life crisis. For he has taken to the road and, uncomfortable in his own skin, dressed himself with a little boy’s giddy excitement in an all-new (if in fact second-hand and absurdly unfashionable) costume. Yet even as he gradually accumulates more deerskin items, this ‘killer style’ is not enough. For Georges, who by now is regularly engaging in conversations with he deerskin, has a bigger dream – “to be the only person in the world to wear a jacket” – and as he starts to film himself divesting others of their jackets, whether by persuasion, trickery or violence, Denise spots an opportunity for realising her own dream to “edit films that already exist” and “change the story.”
Clothes, they say, maketh the man – and this principle extends to cinema’s serial killers. Michael Myers is forever associated with his iconic dull-coloured coveralls. Freddy Krueger, will always have his distinctive red-striped jumper and hat. Chucky sports his multi-coloured shirt and denim dungarees. And more recently there has been a run of films in which an item of clothing is itself murderous – whether the cursed red dress in Peter Strickland’s In Fabric (2018), the vengeful jeans in Elza Kephart’s Slaxx (2020), or the homicidal weave in Justin Simien’s Bad Hair (2020). Deerskin (aka La Daim) both does and does not conform to this pattern. For while it tracks a frustrated dreamer driven – by his eccentric duds, no less – to execute a crazy scheme which involves leaving a trail of bloody, coat-less corpses in his wake, it is also a reflexive work about itself and its own making. “Sorry, but isn’t your film weird?”, one of Georges’ subjects will ask, to which Georges will reply, “No it’s not weird at all, it’s amazing. You can’t make sense of it now, but it rocks!” Where’s the lie?
As our deluded, duplicitous antihero follows his destructive plan to have a jacket that lets him stand out from the crowd, and as Denise becomes both editor and accomplice in his unhinged shopping/murder spree, writer/director Quentin Dupieux (Rubber, 2010; Reality, 2014; Keep An Eye Out, 2018) casts his usual absurdist eye over the reversible relationship between a man and his adopted garb, and between a director and the producer/cutter who midwifes his quirky vision. It is all at once bizaree climacteric comedy and meta serial killer picture, with that special element of ‘no reason‘ that makes Dupieux such an expert at defamiliarising everyday drama into a disorienting dream. Here the madness of moviemaking itself is a perfect fit for a surreal slasher sensibility, as one director or another’s odd (and oddly self-referential) excursions come dressed to kill.
Deerskin is out in cinemas now.