Quentin Dupieux has been on a roll. In 2010, he garnered some well-deserved international recognition for Rubber and has been slowly building up his image as a director of absurd/deadpan comedy ever since. Deerskin [Le Daim] is his latest film and continues this fine tradition, though longtime fans of Dupieux should be warned: the film takes a little longer to get going. But that's all by design really and it doesn't take all that long before Deerskin ventures steadfast into full-blown Dupieux territory. This is cinema for people who welcome the weird and don't mind a little genre-bending.
It would be quite easy to draw parallels to other films. Deerskin would be the perfect companion piece to Dupieux's own Rubber, in an "oddball haunted objects" series. One might link it to Miike's Audition, a film famous for downplaying the first half just to make the second half more impactful. It could even go into competition with Hosking's The Greasy Strangler for the title of "most daft serial killer flick". In the end though, Deerskin is comfortably its own thing. The almost uncontrollable need to draw parallels with other films is mere proof of the audience's need for a little extra grip, because there is so little of that here.
That said, the film does start off a little underwhelming. Even though it doesn't take too long before the first signs of absurdity start to wiggle themselves into the plot, it doesn't immediately scream oddball insanity. Instead, the first half is structured in such a way that it slowly builds up, layer by layer. New elements are added to the film every so often and while they kind of make sense within the Deerskin universe, they are still pretty odd and offbeat. This is all just in preparation of the second half though, when the film finally spins madly out of control.
The story revolves around Georges, a man separated from his wife, with no obvious goals left in life. And so he chases and old pipe dream, namely the purchase of a 100% deerskin jacket. This quest takes him to a little mountain village, where he decides to stay for a little while. The jacket renews his faith in himself, enough so to convince a few of the townspeople that he is shooting a movie. George teams up with Denise, an amateur editor, to make a feature film together. But without any form of script, George is forced to improvise, which takes him to some very unexpected places.
Like other Dupieux films, the visuals in Deerskin are pretty understated. The setting (a remote mountain village during winter season) fares well with the film's colder, almost depressingly dull color palette, while the stark editing and framing underline the deadpan atmosphere Dupieux loves to chase. It gives the film a somewhat dim, wooden feel, but that makes for a nice contrast with the absurdity of the story. The visuals are extremely functional in that they actively increase the comedy, but they aren't exactly pretty or alluring. It's a trade-off, but one that is very acceptable considering the appeal of this film.
The soundtrack is pretty vintage Dupieux too. I'm still a bit disappointed though that he doesn't do more (or at least something less expected) with the scores of his films. As a musician, he should be able to bring something extra, make it an asset that sets his work apart from other directors. Instead, he opts to not let the music distract too much from the rest of the film. The score of Deerskin definitely isn't bad, rather minimal with some uneasy sounding instrumentation. It has a noticeable impact on the film, it's just that I would've loved a little extra, which simply isn't present.
As Dupieux is making a name for himself, he's been given access to a more prominent selection of actors, which has helped to further drive the status of his films. With Deerskin, he managed to land Jean Dujardin for the lead role, which is no minor feat. It's also quite a departure from the role that brought Dujardin international fame (The Artist), but he puts in an amazing performance here. Somewhat docile, a little goofy, but also pretty eccentric and stark-raving mad. Adèle Haenel doesn't disappoint in the slightest either, offering solid counterweight to Dujardin's part. The both of them make for a superb lead duo. The secondary cast is small and a little inconsequential, but that hardly matters.
About halfway through the film has a clear turning point. I'm not going to spoil too much, but it is safe to say that from that point on things really start to feel more than little absurd. While still quite timid compared to certain other, more notorious films, the contrast with the first half of the film makes for some pretty impressive scenes. It's probably best not to build it up too much, Deerskin isn't going to shock any trash and gorehounds, but there are definitely a few scenes that are pleasantly blunt and to the point. Whatever you fancy though, don't write the film off unless you've gone well beyond the halfway point.
Deerskin is a nice variation on familiar themes for Dupieux. All his typical signature elements are here, but the structure of the film is slightly different from his other work, so it doesn't feel like he's merely repeating himself. If you love absurd comedy, executed with a deadpan disposition and styled conform the overall tone of the film, with some additional horror elements to boot, then Deerskin is bound to delight. No doubt it is somewhat of an acquired taste, but because it's almost a niche of its own it pays to at least give it a fair try. If you end up loving this film, there's plenty more where this came from.