“The clothes make the man.” So goes the old adage. And who among us hasn’t felt as if we could take on the world in one perfectly planned outfit, even if those hopes were eventually dashed or we grew out of the piece we loved so much?
For Georges (Jean Dujardin, The Artist), the struggling, middle-aged protagonist of the black comedy Deerskin, that statement piece is a deerskin jacket complete with fringe, if a bit short in the sleeves. It’s a quality piece, but the price tag of 8,000 euros is absurd — and its affable seller seems to think so, too, which is probably why he throws in a video camera with the purchase at the last minute. The oddball tone of the transaction sets the stage for the wacky events that follow, but not in the preposterous style of a slapstick comedy. Rather, the latest narrative from writer/director Quentin Dupieux (Rubber; Wrong) features a much darker brand of absurdity more aligned with Edward Albee than Eddie Murphy.
We soon learn that Georges emptied a shared bank account to get the cash, and the other person involved (his ex-wife, decidedly unimpressed with what she perceives as Georges’ one-way trip to nowheresville) ends up blocking his access to the account. Georges barters his way into lodging at a quaint inn with the promise of funds to come and his wedding ring as collateral, then befriends the canny local bartender, Denise (Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire), by pretending to be a movie director (remember that camera?). She’s an aspiring editor, angling for a way out of a dead-end job, and starts arranging his footage, which includes long sequences of him talking with his new jacket. Naturally — because it’s that kind of movie — the jacket commands him to rid the world of all other jackets.
There’s a creeping dread to Deerskin, set against the stunning background of the French Alps and heightened by a score that seems to be half brass and half exclamation marks, punctuated by a repeated, single piano-note strike. We’re a bit charmed by the awkward Georges as he attempts to fashion himself after someone, well, fashionable, while also being completely unaware of styles or trends. The deerskin jacket links him to the person he desperately wants to be — someone connected to a sense of place and purpose.
But really, Georges has such minimal grasp on his own identity that he allows it to be shaped by everyone and everything around him, including the jacket itself. As he takes the jackets of others, he also purchases more deerskin clothing. Whether it’s an attempt to get back on course or completely give himself over to the jacket, we can’t be sure, and the brutal crimes he commits along the way could be in the service of either goal. All the while, we wait with great anticipation to see whether Georges finally becomes the auteur of his own life, or if the jacket has the final say.
Now available to rent via grailmoviehouse.com