Deerskin (2019): Meet The Beast
Updated: May 18
By: Hooman Razavi
What if you come across a real serial killer rubbing shoulders with you in the street? Could we expect a sneaky smile or a cold face? What if we cross path with an accomplice to that serial killer? It gets more frightening. Viewers of Deerskin, the latest film by French director Quentin Dupiex get a chance to see a cinematic version of this scenario. The 77 -Minutes feature with superb acting duo of Jean Dujardin (George) and Adele Hanabel (Denis) narrates a story of middle-aged masculinity gone astray in rural mountainous French town. Deerskin may conjure up the imagery of Michael Haneke horror classics, but the suspense and absurdity behind actions and events seem far more extreme and beyond comprehension.
Absurdly, the opening scene starts with a repeated dialogue “I swear never to wear a jack as long as I live.” Then it confronts us with the villain, George, early on in his car driving. The classic Joe Dassin song“ Et si tu n’existais pas” is aptly plays along and signals a story that involves hope and possibility of anchoring. The suspense is then built up not in too revealing manner and a horror story unfolds. The mysterious deerskin jacket is introduced, and then Denis, the assistant editor, comes into story who becomes a collaborator in George’s bizarre film experiment. Then random killings starts, George-Denis bonds and the finale for George who eventually falls victim into his own madness. Interestingly, the title is on the surface evocative of a precious and elegant garment, but it symbolizes a much deeper scar. George’s loneliness is projected into the jacket, and it becomes a companion, and accomplice to him, in all the crimes. This characterization is not novel in Dupiex works as film buff remembers his other classic Tire (2011) with the same level of object fetishism and at the same time terror.
The film has a self-meditative aspect too. George randomly gets a digital video recorder. He knows nothing about cinema, but once again, absurdly, it is this gadget that makes him to become creative and find hope in resurrecting himself. He records the killings and seems obsessed with the camera and the power it has imparted. Surprisingly, Denis is an amateur editor but she partakes and enjoys not just editing and seeing the horror but how, in a twisting manner, cinema and filmmaking empower her. One could easily make the argument that beyond the abyss of absurd imagery, fetishism of the Deerskin jacket and degeneration of villain into fully an animal, camera and filmmaking are signalled to belong to a higher ethical plane- one that lingers with viewers. It is at this level that the real punch comes in, viewers deciding whether another deerskin can be avoided or even not happening to any of us; as Dupiex commented “This was the first time I came face to face with reality.”
Jean Dujardin, Oscar award winner for best acting- The Artist, takes into George role flawlessly. He inhabits the villain character. Everything from costume, beard, facial expressions, gestures and voice makes the viewer to fear him and at the same time, impatient to know why he acts in that way. He also commented that “For this character to work, you have to believe in him from the start. He has to be very earthbound.”; Besides, it seems he did not rely much on the screenplay and threw his own slant on the character. Likewise Denis performance is superb. Her glances and crafty dialogues conveyed not only innocence, but her intelligence and malevolence. The editing and camera work make the film flow smoother too. Low-angle, close and medium and shots from inside are cleverly pieced together. The mise-en-scene shows mirrors and the jacket craftily. Finally the musical pieces carry the mode the scenes well. The jarring and useful music live up to the moment and supplement the dialogues and acting.
The main question still lingers? What would make the George to degenerate into a beast? Could we run into likes of George? What role we can play to save them? Is loneliness inevitable existentially? DEERSKIN, on the power of narrative and formalistically answer these questions, rather powerfully. The object-subject and subject-subject relations/bonds could provide some clues. The camera and filmmaking should not be ruled out as remedies too. In brief, this shrewd black comedy shows the dark sides of insanity, obsession, nihilism and ensuing events in a convincing manner; whether as audience we seek a Deerskin of our own imagination, time to time, is not too improbable.
* Deerskin is now available on demand.