Quentin Dupieux has become known as an arch-prankster. You may be familiar with his work as Mr Oizo, giving us ‘Flat Beat‘ around the turn of the Millennium, or by his previous film Rubber, in which a psychic tyre trundles round a desert making people’s head explode while a live audience comments on the proceedings. A different inanimate object goes rogue in Deerskin, another cinematic jape which can wear the patience of the viewer even over a trim runtime, but which establishes Dupieux as a sly satirist with just enough narrative sense to justify its bonkers existence.
Georges (Jean Dujardin) is going through the most bizarre mid-life crisis ever. He purchases a deerskin jacket and becomes obsessed with the idea (perhaps under the malign influence of the jacket itself) of being the only person in the world with an overcoat. What begins as a mad scheme in which he films himself paying people to give up their winter apparel soon turns violent. This is facilitated by bored waitress and amateur editor Denise (Adèle Haenel) who becomes his conspirator and enabler.
Dujardin acts like he’s taking the entire enterprise seriously, which gives the film a sense of respectability Dupieux is very aware it doesn’t deserve. We’re scrupulously inside his skull for practically the whole duration, so it becomes an up-close-and-personal subjective study of a psychopath, like Maniac, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, or Man Bites Dog, which is perhaps the closest in tone to Deerskin. Haenel on the other hand appears to be very much in on the joke, and we’re left to figure out if she’s enabling (and bankrolling) this seriously unhinged man out of stupidity, sheer boredom, or just to see what will happen next.
Like Rubber, Deerskin is as interested in the process of filmmaking as by anything related to the narrative. Dupieux also thumbs his nose at the poor saps trying to ascribe deeper meaning to this lunacy. ‘The real subject is the jacket,’ Denise says, having seen his early footage, going on to say he’s clearly wearing it as a shell against the world. Of course, there are other interpretations. You could extrapolate to extreme levels and read it as a metaphor for genocide. In one of the darker jokes, Georges has someone dig a grave, only to hurl in the overcoats he’s purloined from his victims. What he’s done with the bodies themselves is anyone’s guess.
While it’s hard to recommend Deerskin whole-heartedly – the time it takes to build momentum over a mere 77 minutes is nigh-on unforgivable – there’s always room for such renegade eccentricity. Like his main character, Dupieux comes across as a little blinded by his own self- regard, but if you can attune yourself to the private joke he’s enjoying, and it’s all leading up to one decisive punchline, then it’s a very funny one.
As part of Glasgow Film Festival