Georges is a man who has one ambition – to possess the finest jacket in the world at the expense of all others.
It may be 100% deerskin but Georges’s new jacket is also the G.O.A.T., an item of clothing so perfect he’s prepared to spend his (and his wife’s!) life savings on it: 7,500 Euros in fact.
As jackets go it’s pretty hideous — fawn coloured, with more fringing than me when I can’t afford to Botox my forehead — but to Georges it is such perfection that he decides no one in the world should be allowed to wear a jacket, any jacket, except him.
His chosen method of execution when it comes to this decision — pun intended — sees his midlife crisis taking a sharp turn into murder. Meanwhile ironically his world literally becomes more and more beige, even as he thinks he’s escaped his boring married life.
This is a very funny, very bloody, black comedy, its weirdness never running out of steam as it doffs its 100% deerskin hat and canters off after a mere 77 minutes. It takes me longer than that deciding which of my innumerable jackets to wear on any given day. Writer-director Quentin Dupieux packs a lot of deadpan wit and weirdness into that running time though, and there’s a searing contrast as Georges’s increasingly violent methods of jacket eradication leave his muted world streaked with blood. I hated those browns, I hated the hideous fringed jacket this film is based around, and yet I was gripped. Who knew that a mid-life crisis not my own could be so compelling?
At the start of Deerskin we see a group of young people putting their coats and jackets into a car boot and swearing never to wear such a garment again. Were this film not in French, one could be forgiven for thinking we are witnessing an initiation ceremony for newly arrived students in Newcastle, where putting a coat on when it’s warmer than -10C is considered rather pathetic. (I moved south 20 years ago and much as I miss my home town, I won’t deny the joy of being able to wear 100 denier tights without censure).
Actually Georges (Jean Dujardin) is filming them, using a digital camera that was thrown in by the seller when he bought his awful jacket. In one sale, he finds both his new purpose in life, and his way of recording it for posterity — with him at the centre, even as he convinces himself it’s all about the jacket.
Georges’s jacket can do no wrong in his eyes, despite it being both incredibly mundane and a crime against fashion. “You can see it’s no ordinary jacket,” he explains to the waitress Denise (Adèle Haenel) and her companion in the hotel bar, of his most ordinary jacket. Soon he’s talking to it, then he decides to rid the world of all other jackets. There are a lot of jackets in the world though, and when you factor in fast fashion, or indeed the number of jackets I myself have, one wonders if — like many middle-aged men having a midlife crisis — Georges has really thought this through.
Really though this is a brutal, and brittle, tale of an ageing man who has lost sight of who he is, and is now enjoying a last gasp of impulsive recklessness, taking his decisions wherever they may lead him. I developed a sneaking admiration for him, as he admired himself in his hotel bedroom mirror in his new jacket, muttering “stoking” to himself.
Georges’s world may be becoming beiger — a word I had to invent for this review, but when you see it you’ll realise no other word will do — but he’s still transforming, as the phrase “100% deerskin” starts to take over his life and his wardrobe. Pretty soon he starts to resemble a pantomime horse.
He’s helped by Denise, who edits movies in her spare time and can shape his story, her outsider’s eye capable of grasping the narrative as he stumbles into this new world of filmmaking. It’s no longer just his story then, but she’s warned him that she likes to rework others’ films. “Sometimes I edit movies that already exist. I change the story. It’s pretty cool,” she tells him, reminding me of Alicia Vikander’s Lady in The Green Knight, though where she embellished the folktales she writes down for posterity, Denise recuts Pulp Fiction into the right order.
Denise tells him after watching his initial footage that the jacket is his shell against the world. He films his hotel room from beneath the fringing, like a first year film student. When we see the footage playing on the old fashioned TV in his room it looks like a black and white melodrama, small scale but vitally important to its protagonist.
Dujardin is both hilarious and deeply melancholic, the perfect embodiment of a man looking for meaning who takes the easy way out by making himself the star of his own life. Haenel too is excellent as the younger woman seeing the chance of some excitement and, Like Georges at the start, risking all she has on his plan.
It’s all completely absurd of course, mass murder in this deserted town, whose inhabitants we mostly only meet when they are about to die.
By the end everything is so brown (imagine a film that looks like one of those “which is your favourite shade of toast” tweets) either main character could simply melt into the background (maybe the invisible police already have?) Thankfully though we get a “proper” ending. Georges, who has moved from hunted to hunter to hunted again, is given a finish that fits a lot better than his jacket.
Note: There is a brief mid-credits scene.
Deerskin is available in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray and on digital from 4 October 2021.
Read my (very spoilery) article on the ending, and the role of money — and camouflage — in the film.
Watch the Deerskin trailer now: