Quentin Dupieux on Deerskin
If you're a child of the 90s, you'll remember throbbing techno track Flat Beat from Quentin Dupieux (aka Mr. Oizo). Dupieux now spends most of his time making twisted comedies, and his latest, Deerskin, follows a middle-aged man obsessed with a jacket
“I usually say that the movies I did in the US were a bit like training,” muses French filmmaker and musician Quentin Dupieux.
Dupieux became a cult figure in the film world thanks to Rubber, his outlandish horror-comedy about a sentient tyre that goes on a killing spree, but is still best known, in the UK at least, as Mr. Oizo, the techno artist behind the 1999 chart-topper Flat Beat.
We’re speaking to Dupieux ahead of the release of Deerskin, his eighth feature but only his second shot in France. It’s a deliciously farcical take on objectophilia that sees the director balancing his signature delirium with a newfound inclination to vulnerability. Even at the height of its frantic insanity, it's still his most muted, intimate work. The increased refinement, Dupieux suggests, is down to the homecoming.
“What I was doing before was basically writing in my native language and thinking about translating – I was writing something simple because I wanted the translation process to be easy for me," he says. "With French movies, I’m just writing the best I can, so I feel closer to them than the ones I did in the US. Movies like Rubber are concept movies, there’s absolutely nothing personal there. But now that I am writing in French, it is more my voice.”
Deerskin stars Jean Dujardin (from The Artist and the hugely popular French spy spoof series OSS 117) as Georges, an eccentric man with a weakness for leather attire. After dropping enough money on a tacky deerskin jacket to buy a fairly decent car, the chirpy man makes his way down to a secluded hotel to spend time with his new darling. Holding the outdated camcorder he was gifted alongside the lavish purchase, Georges vainly records himself in the mirror, happily sipping dopamine shots as he confidently whispers: “Killer style”. With empty pockets and nothing to lose, the oddball fashionista sets out to accomplish his long-life dream: to become the only person in the world to wear a jacket.
Unarguably outdated yet impeccably conserved, Georges’ jacket enables Dupieux’s absurdist premise to reach a level of emotional authenticity. Its uniqueness has the viewer striving to understand the man’s unhinged obsession. In order to accomplish such a feat, finding the perfect piece of clothing was critical. “To define the tone of everything else, we had to start with the jacket,” recalls Dupieux. “We tried ten or 12 and this one was the best. It’s almost perfect. You can see it’s too short, but he doesn’t look stupid. We were having fun because Jean was slowly becoming obsessed with the jacket himself, and he was looking good in it.”
The jacket clearly enabled Dujardin to… wear the character’s clothes. Chillingly contained, the actor fully embodies the psychopathic traits of this peculiar maniac, from the mechanical half-smirks to his ludicrous dialogue. The heart of Deerskin, however, lies with bartender-turned-editor Denise (played by Portrait of a Lady on Fire's Adèle Haenel), who Georges meets at the small town’s only hangout – a rustic, permanently empty bar.
“[Haenel] took the character to another level,” says Dupieux. “Denise was written as an absolutely normal girl. She was nice and a bit naive and she wanted to get out of this boring bartender life. She was passionate about editing and that was it. But then, when we started working together, [Haenel] told me ‘I want this character to be as crazy as Georges’. And she did it without changing a single line of dialogue. It was in the way she played it; you can tell in her eyes that she is crazy.”
Haenel’s approach to working with Dujardin nurtured the film's organic tension. “Jean was a bit scared of her," reveals Dupieux. "He was scared she wasn’t available to him when we weren’t shooting, which was honestly a genius move because this is how we created the vibe that you see in the movie. They’re not two friends pretending to be characters, they are characters. They didn’t know each other then and still don’t. We shot for five weeks and they didn’t become friends.” And Haenel’s dedication to crafting a character as nuanced as her male counterpart’s indicates yet another vital break from Dupieux’s previous work, where women were, if not mere appendages, solely brought in as a one-dimensional plot device.
The director has had two years to reflect on the process of creating Deerskin, the film having debuted at the 2019 Cannes film festival. “When you show a film for the first time, especially when you go to Cannes and do this big premiere, it’s always scary. You overthink it. Now, looking back, I’m not scared anymore. I know it’s done, I know some people loved it, so it feels good to look back.”
This freedom, combined with the time he spent isolated with family during the pandemic, led Dupieux to pursue his dream of being able to make one film a year, a goal that now feels attainable. Of course, it also helps that he now has a fertile working relationship with one of France’s best-loved actors. “I still don’t know why, but I can have Jean Dujardin. So when I write a script, even if it’s crazy and absurd and weird, if Jean wants to do it, suddenly it is almost easy to produce. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Deerskin is released on 16 Jul by Picturehouse Entertainment