Review: ‘Deerskin,’ starring Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel

August 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jean Dujardin in “Deerskin” (Photo courtesy of Greenwch Entertainment)

“Deerskin”

Directed by Quentin Dupieux

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed locations in France, the dark comedy “Deerskin” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man who’s temporarily homeless buys a deerskin jacket and invents a filmmaker persona for himself, resulting in some bizarre and unexpected experiences.

Culture Audience: “Deerskin” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching quirky European movies that blur the lines between slapstick and satire.

Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in “Deerskin” (Photo courtesy of Greenwch Entertainment)

French writer/director Quentin Dupieux continues his brand of offbeat filmmaking with the dark comedy “Deerskin,” which is a biting social commentary on the extremes that some people will take in order to feel important. On another level, “Deerskin” is a portrait of a man driven insane by loneliness. The movie is also a depiction of how life-changing moments can happen at the most absurd and most unexpected times.

In “Deerskin,” the protagonist is Georges (played by Jean Dujardin, who won an Oscar for the 2011 silent film “The Artist”), a middle-aged man traveling alone by car. Viewers later find out that Georges is temporarily homeless because, at his unnamed wife’s request or demand, he has left home and she doesn’t want him to come back anytime soon. Georges’ wife is never shown on screen, although she is briefly heard on the phone when Georges calls her during his aimless road trip.

During their short conversation, Georges asks her if she wants to know where he is. She coldly says no and adds, “You don’t exist.” The movie never reveals what caused this marital breakdown. However, it soon becomes obvious that Georges feels very alone in this world. And that loneliness isn’t exactly helping his mental health.

In the very beginning of the movie, George stops to get gas and uses a public restroom. And it’s the first indication that he’s got some mental problems, because he takes off his jacket, stuffs it into the toilet, and then flushes the toilet. The jacket is too big to be flushed, so Georges leaves the restroom with water overflowing from the toilet.

Where is Georges going? He stops off at a stranger’s house because he’s there to answer an ad about an item for sale. The friendly elderly man who answers the door is named Mr. B (played by Albert Delpy), and he’s eager to show Georges the item that he wants to sell. It’s a brown, fringed deerskin jacket that Mr. B says he hasn’t worn for years, ever since it went out of style.

“Here’s the beast,” Mr. B. tells Georges, who immediately loves the jacket, even though it’s too small for him. Mr. B. mentions that everything about the jacket is still intact from when he first got it, except the jacket no longer has the “Made in Italy” tag. Georges pays €7,500 in cash to Mr. B for the jacket. And even though it’s €200 less than the asking price, Mr. B is happy with the sale.

And he does something unexpected: He gives Georges a digital video recorder as a bonus item in this sale. After Georges buys the jacket, he needs to find a place to stay since he’s no longer welcome in his home.

Georges checks into a small inn, where he tells the receptionist (played by Laurent Nicolas) that he plans to stay for one month. However, there’s a problem: Georges has some banking problems that won’t be cleared up until the next day, so he can’t pay by credit card. As a solution, the receptionist agrees to Georges offer to temporarily take Georges’ gold wedding band as a guarantee of payment.

When Georges gets settled into his room, he admires himself in his recently purchased deerskin jacket and remarks to himself that the deerskin jacket gives him “killer style,” which is a phrase that’s mentioned repeatedly throughout the movie. There’s a double meaning for this phrase as the story gets darker and weirder. Georges is so enamored with himself in this jacket that he wears it whenever when he’s out in public.

The jacket seems to have given Georges some newfound confidence. When he walks into the a nearly deserted bar that’s within walking distance of the inn, he sits by himself, but it doesn’t take long for him to strike up a conversation with the only other people in the bar: a bartender in her 20s named Denise (played by Adèle Haenel) and an unnamed middle-aged female customer (played by Marie Bunel), who is sitting near Denise at the counter.

Georges, who is several feet away at the same counter, asks the women if they’ve been admiring his jacket. They give him a puzzled look and say no. The female customer remarks to Georges that he’s obviously not a local. Georges admits he’s not from the area, but then lies and says that he’s a filmmaker and he’s in town because he’s directing a movie.

After Georges leaves the bar and is walking back to the inn, the female customer drives near him and asks him if he wants a ride. Georges politely declines and says that he’d rather walk. The woman then says that if he needs any “bitches for his porn movie,” she’d be willing to offer her services because she said she did some porn about 20 years ago. “I’m still hot, right?” she asks Georges.

Georges is slightly offended and asks her why she thinks that he’s a porn filmmaker. She replies that it’s because he doesn’t look like someone who directs “real movies.” The conversation gets a little heated, she calls him a “loser,” and then she drives off in a huff.

This encounter seems to have triggered something in Georges, because when he goes back to his room at the inn, he starts having an imaginary conversation with his deerskin jacket while it’s hanging in the room. Georges provides the voice of the jacket while he speaks out loud to it. He makes small talk with the jacket, such asking where the jacket is from, and the jacket “replies” that it’s from Italy. And Georges films this conversation.

Georges is about to fall on hard times. He finds out from his bank that his wife has frozen all of their joint bank account, so he can’t get access to any of his money. He ends up scrounging for food in garbage cans because he spent all of his cash on the deerskin jacket. And he begins to talk out loud to the jacket as if it’s a real person. The jacket “talks back” to Georges and has a persona of being a confident motivator for Georges.

In desperation, Georges goes back to the bar to see if he can find a way to scrounge up some money. Denise the bartender is working, and Georges starts talking to her again. He tells her about the insulting porn proposition that the customer gave him the previous night. Denise says that she’s not surprised because the customer, who’s a regular patron of the bar, is a prostitute.

Georges continues to pretend that he’s a filmmaker, and he gives a fake sob story about how he’s been cut off from funds because the producers he’s working with are stuck in Siberia. Denise mentions that she’s an aspiring film editor. She tells Georges that for fun, she once edited “Pulp Fiction” to make all the scenes go in chronological order. Georges shows his ignorance in modern technology when he marvels at how Denise could do that kind of editing, and she asks him (with a skeptical look on her face) if he’s ever heard of digital editing.

However, Georges needs money, so he concocts a story that he will hire Denise on the spot to edit his movie if she can give him some advance money to help finish the project. It’s an obvious scam, and Denise finds it hard to believe that Georges doesn’t want to see any of her editing work before hiring her. However, Denise is so eager to get work in the film industry that she doesn’t hesitate to withdraw cash from her bank account, and she gives the money to Georges.

There’s a limit to how much cash she can withdraw per day, but it’s eventually shown how that problem is dealt with in the story. The movie takes another bizarre turn when Georges is alone with his jacket in his room and a mutual confession comes out that changes Georges’ purpose in life. The jacket “confesses” that it wants to be the only jacket in the world, while George confesses that he wants to be the only person in the world who owns a jacket.

What follows is Georges’ insane quest to steal as many jackets as possible and film it all. Denise is given much this footage to edit, and she thinks Georges’ movie is some kind of mockumentary. His ways of stealing jackets become increasingly maniacal.

One of Georges’ schemes to steal jackets is by enticing people into auditions for his “movie” and telling them to bring all the jackets they own to the “audition.” Once these unsuspecting victims arrive for the “audition,” they’re told that they have to act out a scene where they throw their jackets into Georges’ car trunk while saying this line: “I swear never to wear a jacket as long as I live!”

Georges films them during this “audition” and then drives off with the jackets. If anyone gives chase or tries to object, he tells them that he has them on video saying that they never want to wear a jacket again. But then, things start to get really violent and ugly.

What does Denise think about all of these dirty deeds? She thinks it’s hilarious, and she encourages Georges to go to even more extremes. It’s revealed at the end of the movie how much Denise might or might not have been fooled by Georges’ lies.

In the meantime, in true Dupieux style, the movie has several comedic moments that are meant to make viewers feel uncomfortable. For example, there’s a scene where Georges has to retrieve his gold wedding band, and it involves him having to suck the ring off of the finger of a dead person. It’s actually a lot funnier to watch than how it might be described.

Throughout the course of the story, Georges gets more brown deerskin clothing items (such as a cowboy hat, boots, trousers and gloves) that all happen to match his beloved deerskin jacket. As he accumulates each of these deerskin clothing items, he becomes more emboldened to do the heinous acts that he ends up doing in order to steal more jackets. His obsession with stealing jackets coincides with his obsession to film himself during these thefts, as well as film his imaginary conversations with the jacket.

At just 77 minutes long, “Deerskin” is a brisky and eccentric romp taken to over-the-top levels that would wear very thin if this movie had been stretched to more than 90 minutes. It can be left up to interpretation how much the jacket influenced Georges in a supernatural way, or how much of his madness had already been brewing and Georges used the jacket as an excuse to act in the way that he does. “Deerskin” is best enjoyed by adventurous viewers who don’t mind comedies that don’t give characters much of a past because what these characters do in the present is enough to defy explanation.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Deerskin” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on May 1, 2020. The movie, which was released in several other countries in 2019, is also available on HBO and HBO Max.