TIFF 2020. Deerskin – The Emperor’s New Clothes
Quentin Dupieux’s cinema is talked about in many ways – either as surrealistic comedies, or as gonzo films; he is the director of Rubber (2011), a film about a killer car tire that terrorizes the streets and busts people’s skulls open. Dupieux is also a musician (acting under the name of Mr. Oizo, the author of Flat Beat, an electronic hit from the early 2000s). His idiosyncratic interests can also be seen in his filmography. His most recent work, Deerskin, which premiered last year in the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs at Cannes, is about a generic man (played by Jean Dujardin) who, having been recently left by his wife and kicked out of his home, spends all of his savings on a jacket made of deer leather. He’s so excited about it that he instantly enters a state of adoration; he checks himself into a small-town hotel and leaves his wedding ring as payment, waiting for a miracle to shine onto him and his jacket.
At first glance, the key in which one is to read the film is that of the hard shell under which men hide, and if this generally regards a certain vulnerability that is denied to men, it’s rather the opposite here. It’s true that Georges is trying to completely avoid a potential emasculation just by buying a leather jacket, but through its means, he also discovers a sort of narcissistic, self-contemplative fetish (“Were you talking about my jacket?” he asks two unknown women who are whispering about a local rumor, for example.) Just like in a Dorian Gray syndrome, the protagonist feeds off of watching himself (in the mirror) and from fluttering his deerskin tassels all around the place – he lives a dream in which he is akin to a king on some imaginary plantation. As it transpires, his path is less absurd (in a Beckettian sense) and rather more tragic than in any way ridiculous: it’s the psychopathy of an individual who has nothing left after his wife leaves him, nothing except a four-thousand-euro jacket. Dupieux however pushes on with this already-metonymic plot by also turning Georges into an amateur filmmaker that is documenting his unusual romance. Like any killer jacket, she asks the impossible of Georges: for him to make all the people in the world get rid of their jackets during the withering cold, in order for her to remain the only jacket in the world. The man sees her proposal as a potentially genius one, so, for a little bit of cash, he convinces every single poor person he can find to bring him their jackets from home and to deposit them in his trunk, not before they confess in front of the camera that they will never, ever wear a jacket again. His plan doesn’t work entirely since not everybody wants to freeze in the cold, so the man turns towards murder (and this is about where I can stop with these already numerous spoilers). The documentary that Georges is shooting is nothing more than a facilitator for his obsessions – a medium in which they can run amok, a space in which they are fascinating characters in themselves (in contrast to reality, where they must be repressed). Denise (Adèle Haenel), a waitress that edits films in her spare time, confirms all of Georges’ quirks and even encourages them, without realizing that his films are not at all staged.
The difference between the killer tire in Rubber, that was killing wantonly, and the dictator jacket in Deerskin is minimal, but much more comical in the latter. This type of pathology completely loses its social referent and turns into a caricature: the completely unrealistic crimes in which, using the blades of a fan, he cuts into a car hood as if it were an anniversary cake, are not at all horrifying, they’re just incredibly stages. It’s a world which has a side to it in which chaotic, unpolished shots recorded on a Handycam are palpable (and are a part of the man’s actual crisis exactly because they’re messy) and the crimes are unrealistic, which rather appear as projections, like pieces from a fetishistic, gory imagination.
Dupieux grasps for the same meta-cinematic mechanisms that also dismantle illusions in A Poste! (2018) and Reality (2014). 1. In the former, when the curtain suddenly rises and the actors walk towards the audience in order to take a bow, and the protagonist’s (who, in the so-called spectacle, had been a crime suspect) jaw drops to the floor – after having a beer to celebrate the show’s success, he’s thrown into a “real” paddy wagon and sent to prison. 2. “The search for reality” is one of Dupieux’s preoccupations – in Reality, the plot is spun around a polysemic term (Reality is the name of the girl and, simultaneously, a meta-text of the film; on the one hand it presents a Lynchian, dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-type puzzle that brings to mind B-series horror films, and on the other hand, there is a fragment in which an American filmmaker wants to burn through all of the expensive film stock of his French producers in order to shoot the girl’s soothing sleep in real-time). This permanent balance between B-movies, classical American cinema and slow cinema governs Quentin Dupieux’s entire filmography, who seems to confess his own vulnerabilities in front of the camera (through the most absolutely thickly-veiled means imaginable); but, out of all of his films to date, Deerskin is the only one to deliver a conclusion at the end, even if it’s just a corny pun – one that would probably unwind any single film with psychopathic murderers ever made.
Deerskin can be seen at TIFF on the 6th of august, as part of the Full Moon section.