Bizarre. Erratic. Surreal. Understated. Perverse. Charming. Those are all words readily applied to the work of oddball French director Quentin Dupieux. Until this point, dull has never been on that list, but Deerskin, his latest curiouser-and-curiouser comedy, unexpectedly crosses that unimpressive line.
Dupieux's characters have a habit of being blithely blind to their own oddness, which is fine when they live in such clearly unusual worlds. Whether it's the Pinteresque formality of his killer-tire debut, Rubber, or the psychic canines of affable shaggy-dog-story Wrong. Yet in Deerskin it's a much more conventional world with one oddball. Georges (The Artist's Dujardin) is stuck in in a small Swiss village, with only two friends: Denise (Portrait of a Lady on Fire's Haenel), a bartender and aspiring film editor, and his fringed, deerskin jacket that has convinced him to get rid of every other jacket in the world. Fortunately, the coat came with a digital camera, and so he sets about making a fake documentary in which he gets everyday folks to pledge never, ever to wear overgarments again.
Obsessive weirdos are Dupieux's stock-in trade, but he usually packs his world with such myopic strangeness, with everyone careening through crowds due to their own fixed point of view. Here Georges is really the only person with a mania, and it throws the director's traditional balance off. Denise starts off as his Sancho Panza, but as the tools to reaching his jacketless utopia become increasingly bloody, this gets a lot more like the Crimson Bolt and Boltie smashing random strangers in the face with a pipe wrench in Super. Yet Dupieux's surprisingly brief examination of obsessives and enablers never matches James Gunn's prescient dissection of our fascination with vigilantes in spandex.
What's disappointing is that The Deerskin has lost all the impish creativity of Dupieux's last two (and arguably most rounded) features, 2015's cinema spoof Reality and the Michel Gondry-tinged theatricality of 2018's Keep an Eye Out. Like the beige miasma that seems to engulf every shot, the quirkiness just seems ... there, like Dupieux feels obligated to be strange. Game performances from Dujardin and Haenel can't spark enough interest, nor does Dupieux add enough structure, to make this hike into weirdness more than a dull saunter.
It's the same failing as his worst misfire, the clunky and gross Wrong Cops. A tedious mix of Reno 9-1-1 awkward humor and the queasy provocation in Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!, it felt like Dupieux was trying too hard, and Deerskin feels like the injection of the leather obsession just never quite meshes with the rest of the story. A final act turn into high weirdness is both a success and a disappointing fall-back onto all his old tricks. It's hard not to think that this would all have worked better if the filmmaker had trusted himself to tell this as a more conventional narrative, and let character, rather than quirk, tell the story.
Deerskin is currently available through Greenwich Entertainment’s initiative whereby streaming “tickets” can be bought through virtual ticket booths for local arthouse cinemas. Choose from:
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