Director – Quentin Dupieux – 2019 – France – Cert. 15 – 77m
A man buys a deerskin jacket then decides he should be the only person who can wear a jacket which leads to disastrous consequences – out in cinemas on Friday, July 16th
Georges (Jean Dujardin from The Wolf Of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese, 2013; The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius, 2011; OSS 117: Cairo Nest Of Spies, Michel Hazanavicius, 2006) is driving. Some considerable distance across France. And very full of himself, too. After a couple of days, he arrives at the seller’s house. 100% deerskin! The Jacket is everything he dreamed, and he willingly pays the asking price in cash. The seller is stunned at his good fortune; he’s never seen so much money. He throws in a digital video camera.
Georges’ credit card is blocked, so on checking in to the local hotel he leaves his gold wedding ring with the receptionist as a deposit. Drinking at a local bar, he explains to the barmaid Denise (Adèle Haenel from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, Céline Sciamma, 2019; 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute), Robin Campillo, 2017) that he’s a filmmaker and currently shooting. She confesses that she works as an editor. When he explains he has a problem with his producers, who are currently shooting an action sequence in Siberia, she withdraws money for him from a cashpoint. His card continues to be blocked and she keeps giving him funds.
He has conversations with the jacket in his room, he talks to himself about “killer style!” He wants to be the only person in the world wearing a jacket of any sort. He advertises for actors who must bring their jackets along. When they turn up, he explains he’ll shoot their parts then and there, gets them to renounce their jackets and put them in his car boot. On later occasions, he simply starts accosting people leaving a local cinema, killing them and taking their jackets.
Georges has recently separated from his wife (when he talks to her on the phone, she tells him he doesn’t exist) and she is the cause of his joint account being blocked. Perhaps his strange behaviour is an outworking of his grief over the relationship. Watching Dujardin’s increasingly odd activities proves compelling. Some of this is circumstantial: after Georges checks in, the hotel receptionist commits suicide with a shotgun which means he has to visit the body (laid out in one of the rooms) to retrieve his ring and leave it with the manager at the desk. He takes the corpse’s deerskin hat too.
By the end, Denise – who is “really into” his film and assembling an edit – has also supplied him with deerskin trousers and gloves. The body count is mounting. Even bigger is the number of stolen jackets, for which he’s hired a mechanical digger to dig a hole in which to bury them. He rips a blade from the ceiling fan in his hotel room and presses it into service as a murder weapon. Ultimately, no-one is safe, not even the woman who stops her car to ask for directions.
While his actions may be morally reprehensible and he seems to have a screw loose, there’s nevertheless something winsome and likeable about Georges, Even though you can’t imagine his story ending well. You wouldn’t condone his actions in real life, but the cinema is a fantasy playground where you can will him to carry on knowing full well the fantasy ends when you leave the building. It’s like willing the car containing the body to sink into the swamp in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960).
Georges’ ingénue film making attempts are highly instructive on the nature of the medium. We watch with a mixture of hilarity and horror as he explains to a man who wants his jacket back, “but you renounced it – I have it on film!” The ever tenuous lines between documentary and fiction start to blur. Deerskin is a work of fiction, but it has much to say about the film making process – not to mention, by implication, our current world in which so much is shot on mobile phones in a process of actualisation not that far removed from what George initiates in this very odd yet somehow deeply poignant and affecting outing.
Deerskin is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, July 16th.