AFI Fest Review: ‘Deerskin’ Makes a Dark Mockery of Mockumentary

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Quentin Dupieux’s “Deerskin” made a brutal splash as part of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Opening the “Directors’ Fortnight” program, the French black comedy proved that the provocative auteur is still capable of surprising even those expecting the unexpected. Having been conditioned to the violent character study chaos of $1 billion-dollar grosser “Joker,” “Deerskin” won’t face identity rejection from American audiences. In fact, this depraved tale of two individuals living dead-end lives with nothing to lose has uncanny parallels to the maniacal dynamic of pop culture icons Joker and Harley Quinn.

Jean Dujardin’s engrossing performance is a high-wire balance of absurdity and malice that leaves audiences transfixed even when the initial instinct is to run. The Oscar-winning actor plays Georges, a man facing impending divorce who discovers he’s been frozen out of his bank account by his estranged wife. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes with Georges to realize just how disturbed he is. After purchasing a deerskin jacket with the only cash left over from the breakup, Georges begins hearing voices from the jacket (of his own verbal creation) that make the most ludicrous demands. The fashionable hide commands Georges to rid the world of all jackets except for the one he wears. Accomplishing this goal takes madness and skill, a task Georges realizes involves seducing someone else into his insane scheme.

Secluded in a town nestled in the French alps, Georges finds an unlikely comrade at the local tavern across from the hotel he’s holed up in. Working as a waitress and bartender in this near-empty mountain village, Denise (Adéle Haenel) finds herself incapable of fulfilling her dream of becoming a successful film editor. However, in Georges she discovers a chance at invaluable experience to fuel her creative passion.

When Georges acquired his deerskin jacket, the seller threw in an old digital camcorder as a bonus. For posterity’s sake and to give his life some prominence while he’s essentially broke and homeless, Georges makes an immediate career transition into filmmaking. What he doesn’t realize is that to Denise – who Georges hires on bogus grounds of his artistic merit — the footage captured has massive “mockumentary” potential. Georges hires locals as his actors, who play out scenes where they renounce their jackets only to then have the faux-director steal them while the camera continues recording.

An outsider robbing the townsfolk of their possessions is going to spread word, so Georges decides to eliminate this problem by way of bloody massacre. His “mockumentary” style quick devolves into “snuff.” Denise has no problem with this evildoing so long as she’s granted producer ownership on top of her editing duties. Whether it’s cabin fever in the middle of nowhere or a pure mental breakdown on both their parts, Dupieux chooses not to judge his characters’ heinous actions. Instead, he allows the audience to viscerally experience their rising madness for the loopy ride it is. The lethal modes of dispatch are terrifying yet carry comical weight of sheer shock. For example, viewers will never see fan blades the same again now that they know their deadly potential.

It’s evident that Dupieux is fascinated by audiences engaging with controversial content. Nervous laughter, sometimes uproarious, is in abundance when grappling with material that leaves people unsure of how to properly react. With magnetic turns from its leads and a script that stretches the mind’s limits of comfort, “Deerskin” is a genre hybrid that mocks sensibility and upends rational thought.

“Deerskin” played at this year’s AFI Film Festival as part of the “World Cinema” program.

GRADE: (★½)

Will you be checking out Jean Dujardin’s latest movie, “Deerskin”? Let us know in the comments section below!