FlixChatter Review: DEERSKIN (2020)

If you look at the review quotes all over this poster, calling it ‘demented,’ ‘bat-shit crazy’ ‘unhinged’ … well in many ways this French film lives up to those descriptions. I was curious to see this because I had heard of Quentin Dupieux‘s 2010 film Rubber, which is about a homicidal car tire. This time, it’s another inanimate object that seemingly has supernatural power to wreak havoc on those who came into contact with it.

This horror comedy stars Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin, who most people know in The Artist, as a middle-aged, recently-divorced man. Right from the start when he frantically got rid of his corduroy jacket at a gas station–in a wholly stupid & irresponsible manner–we know Georges is suffering from a mental breakdown. He then visits a friend where he impulsively buys a vintage fringed deerskin jacket, and after paying a huge sum of money (too much I’d say for a used jacket that isn’t even in style anymore), he was given a digital video recorder as a bonus. He then drove to a sleepy French alpine village and took residence in a motel.

And so it begins… Georges’ descend into madness. He starts talking to the jacket, taking endless videos of it, and displaying all kinds of weird, obsessive behavior. It made me think of how actors often say that once they put on a costume for a role, that’s when they feel like can inhabit their character fully, and perhaps they’d even feel invincible, like they found a new purpose in life. In the case of Georges, this aimless man is possessed by the jacket in a truly bizarre way. There’s definitely a streak of toxic masculinity, as he walks around feeling like he’s the bee’s knees with his new killer style. He came up with with a crazy mission that he wants to be the only person in the world to wear a jacket, which gets more and more extreme as the film progresses.

I’ve seen Dujardin only in half a dozen projects, and he usually portrayed a slick, charming gentleman with a gregarious personality. Interesting to see him in a much more subdued, even deadpan performance, barely flashing his mega-toothed smile. The film didn’t really kicked into gear until he meets Denise, played Adèle Haenel (recently seen in Portrait of a Lady on Fire), a waitress with great aspiration as an editor. Somehow Georges managed to convince Denise that he’s an indie filmmaker who’s being abandoned by his producers in Siberia. Not only that, he even got to make her feel sorry for him that she’s willing to fund his film AND also edit it!

The whole filmmaking aspect of the story is quite amusing and surreal. There’s one memorable scene where Denise grills Georges about his film and what it’s about. He can’t come up with a real concrete idea (naturally, as he just makes stuff up as he goes along), and it’s Denise who plants a brilliant idea in his head.

Amidst all the absurdities however, the performances of the two leads, managed to hold my attention. Their relationship surprisingly isn’t salacious, but it’s definitely unsettling. I find it intriguing to see a constant shift between them as to who is actually in control. At first I thought Denise has fallen prey to Georges, but as she continues to remain committed to his film project, I wonder if she knows more than she let on. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but trying to figure out her character and whether she has her own agenda proves to be increasingly more suspenseful to me as Georges’ deranged behavior gets more and more gruesome.

I’m not a horror movie fan, but I’m sure fans of the genre notice some nods to serial killer movies like Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the way some of the violent scenes were filmed. Yet there’s an alarming nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude that Georges displays that makes it absurdly comical. He might as well has his whole face covered up like those famous horror characters as he barely displays any emotion.

Deerskin is certainly a weird movie, but reading about some of Dupieux’s previous work, this one seems to be the most accessible. The ending still manages to surprise me, despite the fact that it followed a horror genre trope. I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend this movie to casual moviegoers, I feel like Dupieux’s movies are an acquired taste. I’m glad I saw this one and it was entertaining enough for reasons I’ve mentioned above, yet I don’t know that I’d be clamoring to see his other movies.


DEERSKIN OFFICIAL WEBSITE


Have you seen DEERSKIN or Dupieux’s other films? I’d love to hear what you think!

Portrait of A Lady on Fire (2019)

Written & Directed by: Céline Sciamma

Winner of last year’s queer palm at Cannes, Portrait of a Lady of Fire creates something new. By using the form of a period piece, Sciamma was able to create something contemporary. Set in the late 1700’s on a remote island, Marianne (Noèmie Merlant) is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel).

While the age of Enlightenment is taking place, women remain tethered by convention whether in painting, servitude or marriage the women of this film find themselves propelled by outside/social forces. For a time, these women are seemingly protected, isolated from the mainland and patriarchal society before being forced to confront the reason their lives have come together in the first place. The women of this film learn to depend on each other, finding a sense of companionship and balance only to have it abruptly end.

Hailed as a post me-to0, LGBTQ and feminist masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a film most concerned with the artist and the idea of the gaze. This theory can be used a bridge between art as a medium and social theory, integrating politics and art history. While a gaze can be used to confer meaning upon a piece, the relationship of the viewer and the viewed are always in negotiation.

As best stated by [French historian and philosopher] Michel Foucault while studying the function of the gaze in the painting Las Meninas the “observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange. No gaze is stable…subject and object, spectator and model reverse their roles into infinity.” This communication is the exploration of director Céline Sciamma. The relationship between the two main characters blurs until it is unclear who is looking at whom. Through the film, the gaze becomes their mode of interaction. Intimacy and attraction grow as they share in this collaborative act and the painting’s completion serves as tribute.

Héloïse’s journey goes from being an object/the muse to someone who observes the subject and thus becomes the Marianne’s collaborator. This is a really amazing technical performance by Adèle Haenel, which destroys the traditional idea of art as a horizontal relationship to a horizontal one of give and take, or as in painting, layers of alternation.

This film also challenges the assumption that we have progressed as a society as well as in art, or at least that progress happens in a linear fashion. Choosing to place the film in the time of the late 18th century, a time known for a huge rise in female artists who were later censored and removed from art history is a very intentional choice. It is the perfect time to place a critique on the backlash female filmmakers are currently facing. This goes back to the idea of the gaze and one’s in ability to control how one is perceived by others, specifically due to culture and society. As Michel Foucault states “insofar as I am the object of values which come to qualify me without my being able to act on this qualification or even to know it, I am enslaved.”

A truly beautiful and cerebral film that will give you an exciting and new perspective on art and love. It’s a hopeful as well as critical film that offers insight into ideas of identity and personhood.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen Portrait of a Lady On Fire? Well, what did you think?