Deerskin stars Jean Dujardin as a man obsessed with his deerskin jacket

Jean Dujardin in Deerskin. Picture: Umbrella Entertainment
Jean Dujardin in Deerskin. Picture: Umbrella Entertainment

Deerskin (MA15+)

2 stars

Have you been hankering to see a French absurdist mid-life-crisis black comedy horror movie about a man who is obsessed with - and possibly possessed by - an item of apparel? If so, voila!.

This subtitled film (original title: Le daim) was written and directed by Quentin Dupieux, a name previously unfamiliar to me. I don't feel compelled to seek out any of his other work.

Although Deerskin is certainly unusual - and deserves credit for that - it's painfully slow, even at under 80 minutes, and underdeveloped. It's the kind of film that might have worked better if it were shorter and more compact, so its flaws were less apparent, or longer and more fully realised. As it is, there are occasional rewards if you are very patient.

Jean Dujardin is the star. Since winning an Oscar for The Artist, he's had supporting parts in the occasional Hollywood movie like The Wolf of Wall Street but mostly has stuck to Francophone cinema, where he's obviously a bigger name. The days when stars like Charles Boyer, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jordan could do well in the US, regularly exuding Gallic charm and/or menace, seem to be long gone.

Dujardin with his charisma and presence is the best thing about the film, taking his role seriously (no mean feat) and helping to hold the attention through the film's many slow patches.

He plays Georges, who seems to be experiencing some sort of midlife crisis. We meet him while he is driving in the country while repetitive string and piano chords recur on the soundtrack, suggesting something really dark is going to happen.

It does, but not for a long, long time.

Jean Dujardin, left and Adèle Haenel in Deerskin. Picture: Umbrella Entertainment

Jean Dujardin, left and Adèle Haenel in Deerskin. Picture: Umbrella Entertainment

Georges stops to remove his corduroy jacket and flush it down a public toilet, or at least attempt to, then goes on his way.

He arrives at the house of an old man who has for a sale a fringed deerskin jacket and pays an exorbitant sum - thousands of euros - for it. The old man throws in a movie camera to seal the deal because, well, why not? It makes about as much sense as anything else in this story.

This deerskin jacket - and the rest of Georges' gradually accumulated deerskin ensemble - make him look like he should be singing in Annie Get Your Gun or Calamity Jane.

But the jacket will quickly assume an importance that seems both fetishistic and possessive. Georges begins talking both to and as the jacket, developing the closest relationship he has in the movie.

Georges decides to stop in a small town where he talks a clerk in a sparsely occupied hotel into accepting his wedding ring in lieu of cash for a room (having blown all he has on the coat; his bank account has been frozen by his ex-wife). He begins talking to a bartender, Denise (Adèle Haenel, also good), telling her he's a filmmaker.

And wouldn't you know it, she's an aspiring editor: just for fun, she reassembled Pulp Fiction on her computer so it was in chronological order. This is yet another violation of what should be a law of filmmaking: never reference a better film your audience will realise they would rather be watching instead of the one they're currently enduring.

When Georges tells her he's a filmmaker, she believes him and is eager to come on board. She even believes him when he says his financiers are working in Siberia and gives him money, repeatedly.

And then things get even weirder and not for the squeamish, as Georges seeks to fulfil his jacket's desire to be the only one in existence.

It's here the film finally picks up some pace, if not credibility, but for many it will be too little, too late.

There seems to be some kind of metaphor about filmmaking here - the obsession, the desire to create at whatever cost to anyone involved - but unless you're very keen it probably isn't worth the bother of thinking about it too much.

Deerskin is only 77 minutes long but the leaden pace and painfully slow development make it feel longer. Scenes drag on interminably and the novelty of Dujardin conversing with, and as, his jacket wears off quickly.

Recommended only to fans of Dupieux, Dujardin and the very patient with a taste for the offbeat who might find more to like in this than I did.

This story French black comedy wears thin first appeared on The Canberra Times.