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!

Guest Review: JACKIE (2016)

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Directed By: Pablo Larraín
Written By: Noah Oppenheim
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Great Gerwig, John Hurt
Runtime: 1 hr 40 minutes

History and drama often make awkward bedfellows as you might find in the bio-pic Jackie (2016). The assassination of JFK is one of the defining moments of the 20th century and any dramatization of the immediate aftermath is a risky venture. History buffs may fault it and others may struggle with its melodramatic interpretation of Jaqueline Kennedy’s life-defining event. But look beyond the cinematic limitations and you find a complex portrait of a remarkable person who endured an unimaginable horror with rare strength and dignity.

The film’s starts with the motorcade in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated and ends with his funeral. The narrative is framed around a journalist’s interview conducted a week after the event and a confessional talk with a priest at the funeral. It uses their questions and comments to trigger flashbacks to the short JFK presidency, with dramatisations that craft together archival footage and historical photographs. The title of the film makes it clear that this is a portrait of Jackie (played by Natalie Portman) so her words, her emotions, and her actions are the primary focus. The film’s narrative tension comes entirely from the depiction of her inner world of private trauma and her struggles with the political and public reaction to the event.

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The most striking aspect of Portman’s portrayal is her ability to present several sides of the one persona as if she and Jackie shared multiple personalities. Once you recover from the distraction that Portman barely resembles Jaqueline Kennedy, she takes you on an emotional roller-coaster, from terror, anger, hate, confusion, mental vacillation and disorientation to calm resolve about her role in history. Throughout it all she remains committed to turning a tragedy into national mythology based on political heroism, the Kennedy legend, and the Camelot fairy tale. While there is a commendable support cast, this is a one-woman performance and Portman’s portrayal is a tour de force.

Some will find this film an unflattering interpretation of Jaqueline Kennedy while others will find that it helps them to sympathetically understand the person behind the mask. The film steers a fine line in avoiding judgement and it is Portman’s dramatic ability to step into Jackie’s soul and to capture her mental trauma that ultimately shines. No bio-pic is perfect and you need to overlook scenes where the film struggles with period authenticity. Set this aside and you will be rewarded with a memorable performance about an unforgettable event.

4Reels

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘JACKIE’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: ELLE (2016)

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Directed By: Paul Verhoeven
Written By: David Birke
Runtime: 2 hrs 10 minutes

The women’s film genre covers the spectrum of feminine empowerment to absolute degradation and several can be read both ways. Elle (2016) is an ambivalent film that can be read as a tale of self-assertion or, equally valid, about victimhood, transgressive sexuality and gender disrespect. The story is framed against the violent porn video game industry where women are routinely sacrificed to male gratification and dominance. Porn video games normalise sexual assault and other forms of humiliation and this cyber reality merges with the Elle narrative on fantasy and victimhood.

Michelle (Isabelle Huppert) is a successful Parisian video game entrepreneur who leads a company of testosterone-fueled hipsters whose job it is to hyper-stimulate young males into doing things to women in video cyber-worlds. The film’s opening scenes are both disturbing and banal: Michelle appears to be violently raped by a masked intruder and then proceeds to tidy up the mess with barely more than an air of inconvenience. No, it is not a video game, and yes, it happens again as do several other normalised sexual transgressions. For example, when she discovers the staffer who pasted her face onto a video game assault victim she asks the person to expose his genitals in her office. Rather than an opportunity for reverse humiliation or worse, she only says “pretty” and walks off leaving us wondering if she is seriously cool or seriously damaged.

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Divergent plotlines fill out the character of Michelle to explain the reasons for her impassivity. Her father is in prison for crimes against children and her mother pays for sex with younger men. She sleeps with her business partner’s husband and lusts for her neighbour, and compulsively tells lies in her twilight world between video game brutality and real-world morality. While appearing indestructible in her business life her emotional world is a fragile void that cannot be filled with normal relationships. The several scenes that dwell suggestively on her face oozing repressed sexual desire hint darkly of a deeply troubled soul.

This is a compelling film that examines the parallel universe of a woman who is both a perpetrator and a victim of sexual transgression and who lives under the guise of wealth and respectability. As such, it is also a portrait of hypocrisy and moral extremities with audience voyeurism forming the picture frame. Isabelle Huppert pushes this role to its limits while showing little emotion beyond what she can say with her expressive eyes. It is hard to judge a survivor like her, and we can only guess what keeps her head together. This film is one of many that push back the cultural envelope that has kept women’s sexuality on a pedestal.

4Reels

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia

 


Have you seen ‘ELLE’? Well, what did you think? 

Classic Flix Review: La Jetée (1962) by Rockerdad

Lately, I’ve been preaching to RTM the benefits of Netflix streaming. Recently acquiring a Blu Ray/Netflix player (for cheap), I’ve spent many a night since checking out Netflix’s Watch Instantly library. While the typical duds are to be found, there were some surprisingly good to great movies on the catalog as well as some must-see and under the radar TV shows. I was mostly impressed by the abundance of classic/foreign films from the Criterion Collection. Just last night I re-watched one of the most unique science fiction films ever made: La Jetée.

Directed by French writer, photographer and multimedia artist Chris Marker, La Jetée (The Jetty or The Pier) is an experimental science fiction film told solely thru black and white still-images (with one exception) with no dialogue, just narration (dubbed in English) and music. The story is set in Paris – World War III has just decimated the world. People are forced to live underground from the fallout while food and the energy supply are close to non-existent. Scientists have begun work on time travel as a way to connect with the future and the past to obtain technology and supplies to save the present.

The main character, a prisoner, is chosen as a test subject to travel through time mainly because of his strength of memory and mind. Other subjects have failed the tests and have come back brain damaged or deranged, unable to cope with the physical and mental stresses of time travel. While traveling through the past, he meets and falls in love with a woman from his childhood. While his trips last days and weeks to months in the past, they are mere minutes in the present.

Eventually, the scientists deem him fit to send to the future where he meets an advanced culture who provide a device for him to save the present. At this point, with the test successful, his jailers plan to terminate him for they now have no use for him. The people from the future offer him a place with them to escape his killers but he opts instead to return to his childhood timeframe where a bleak but vivid memory haunts him as he tries to connect with the woman from his past…

The film resonates from a child’s point of view, perhaps because of its use of still montage as if you were turning the pages of a picture book. In fact, a book form of the film exists but is reportedly out of print. The photography is meticulous and expressionistic – noir-ish in its depiction of shadows and darkness. The only source of light, is an interrogation light bulb. The eerie stock music comes from British composer Trevor Duncan’s library work.

Within its 28 min. running period, what seems like an epic idea takes powerful form and shape in still photography. Uncompromising in its brevity and as a non-motion film, La Jetée is surprisingly accessible – so strong was its design and concepts that it inspired the Terry Gilliam film 12 Monkeys (with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt), widely considered a full-length and excellent treatment of the short film. Highly recommended.