French black comedy DEERSKIN (LE DAIM), screened as part of the Director’s Fortnight selection at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, begins as 44-year-old Georges (Jean Dujardin) decides to chuck it all in – wife, home, life – before setting off on a trip to inquire about an item in the Classifieds section of a regional newspaper. When he arrives at his destination, Georges is greeted by an old man who digs around in an old wooden chest to produce the article in question: a tan-coloured, ‘100% deer skin’ cropped suede jacket, complete with belt and full-on cowboy fringe. From the moment he puts it on, Georges is unable to contain his elation, his cast-iron confidence in his new look jarring hilariously against the ill-fitting and seriously naff reality of his appearance. The film mines the absurdity of Georges’s fanaticism for the jacket and self-professed ‘killer style’ as a rich source of humour—as, for example, when a woman in a bar mistakes him for a porno director on the basis of his attire.
Over the course of the narrative, the jacket becomes a fetish object for Georges in the strict sense of the term: a prop that bolsters his confidence and supports an inner fantasy life that is increasingly unhinged from both external reality and conventional morality. In keeping with director Quentin Dupieux’s affinity for seriously strange subject matter (his 2010 film RUBBER, for example, is about a sentient killer tyre called Robert), the film veers into much weirder terrain, with the jacket taking on a life of its own. Speaking through Georges, the jacket reveals its deepest wish: to become ‘the only jacket in the world.’ The pair concoct a sinister plan to bring this desire to fruition, and soon the jackets—and the bodies—start to pile up …
“For me, DEERSKIN was one of the stand-out films of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, and one that confirms Dupieux as a director with a distinctive ‘killer style’ all his own”
Through its central conceit, DEERSKIN recalls a wider tradition of French storytelling — from Charles Perrault’s DONKEY SKIN to Honoré de Balzac’s THE WILD ASS’S SKIN — in which an animal hide is understood to possess magical properties and to confer special powers onto its owner. While the jacket in DEERSKIN may not make magic in a literal sense, it does preside over Georges’s re-invention as a filmmaker, eventually serving as the basis on which local barmaid and aspiring editor Denise (Adèle Haenel) decides to bankroll the production. But while the skin suggests links with the Fantastic tradition, the film adopts a decidedly deadpan aesthetic that tonally has more in common with Peter Strickland’s haunted dress yarn IN FABRIC or the serial killer comedies of Mark Duplass. While the danger in this sort of filmmaking is that the concept can start to wear thin, Dupieux’s film sustains it for the full length of the film, keeping the audience in stitches up until the final moment. For me, DEERSKIN was one of the stand-out films of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, and one that confirms Dupieux as a director with a distinctive ‘killer style’ all his own.