I suppose there are multiple ways to go about having a good old-fashioned masculine midlife crisis — it just depends on your level of commitment. You know the obvious ones, of course: things like plunking down your life savings for a shiny red sports car, trading in your age-appropriate partner for a much younger model, or quitting your stable job to embark on a yearlong wellness retreat at an ashram in India. But with his delightfully unhinged new black comedy, Deerskin, French writer-director Quentin Dupieux makes a case for what at first seems like a far less drastic, far more reasonable option: developing a serious fixation on vintage clothing.
Enter Georges (Jean Dujardin), a middle-aged guy who has just been dumped by his fed-up wife and is looking for something to fill the void. And that’s when he sees it: a fringed deerskin jacket he just has to have. It calls to him, and he just has to have it, even though the price tag seems a bit absurd for something that looks like it was plucked from a costumer’s rack on the set of a spaghetti Western — although for him, that’s clearly part of the appeal, along with the low-quality digital video camera that’s been thrown in for good measure. He’s then off to the French countryside, where he checks into a small motel intent on clearing his head (and beginning a new career as a renegade filmmaker) and admiring his new purchase.
The hotel’s bartender, Denise (Adèle Haenel), is intrigued by his arrival (and perhaps a bit bored), and she just so happens to have a background in film editing — or so she tells Georges, who wouldn’t know any better anyway. He hires her for his “upcoming project” without seeing a stitch of her work, on the condition that she fronts him some money his “producers” have promised to pay him once they’re “back from a shoot in Siberia.” The truth, obviously, is that he’s completely broke — his wife has frozen their joint accounts, and he spends most of his spare time sitting around in his room staring at his beloved jacket, which begins to take on a life of its own (at least in Georges’ increasingly frazzled mind).
Soon, he’s having full-on conversations with his new jacket/spiritual guide, and he’s more than willing to take on the dark mission the jacket has laid out for him: to eliminate every other jacket in existence. He uses his “job” as a “filmmaker” to lure unsuspecting townspeople into throwing their jackets into the trunk of his car as part of an “audition,” taking more and more drastic means to ensure the destruction of his jacket’s nemeses — and that’s sort of the entire plot. The film revels in its own silliness and simplicity, and it’s delightful to watch a handsome Academy Award–winning actor spend 77 minutes fully committing to this particular brand of cartoonish lunacy. Somehow, the bloodier things get (and things do get quite bloody), the more feverishly joyful the whole thing feels.
As is the case with Georges’ sartorial leanings (and vintage shopping in general, I can attest as a fervent devotee), Deerskin will hardly be to everyone’s taste, but if your sense of humor tends toward the bizarre, this will really speak to you. Go ahead and try it on, revel in the “killer style,” take it home, and let it sit with you. Just try not to speak back to it when anyone else is watching.
(Screened at Fantastic Fest; U.S. release TBA)