Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Deerskin (and some shorts)

This movie didn't really land quite so well as I'd hoped, and one of the things I initially wondered is if it was because it was the first of Dupieux's films that I've seen at home, rather than in a theater, be it festival, midnight, or "regular" show. This one isn't quite of a piece with them, but with those other movies, there was a definite sense that having other people around asking what they heck they were seeing made them more fun. Everybody saying "what the heck?" together is an important form of having a shared experience!

I don't know if that's necessarily missing, though; if I saw this one with an audience, I might be just as focused on what he's trying to say as enjoying the ride and trying to fit it all together as some sort of collected commentary on mid-life crisis and impostor syndrome and overconfident mediocre men. There's a bit of a disconnect between the specific targets of the satire and the general feeling of strangeness, and I think that's where the difference lies.

After all, I watched the two Dupieux shorts I could find on line at home (a couple days later) and laughed just fine, although when I started writing afterwards, I saw a bit of a thread of how he seems to really dislike pretension in show business and art, and it's worth remembering that Rubber also opens with a comment on how this is all very silly and nothing happens for a reason. It seems, at times, like it must be tricky to be an absurdist (or, for that matter, in making EDM); there's a lot of crazy detail work in getting everything optimized right down to the fraction of a second so that it hits perfectly that I suspect makes one really distrust the people who stay in the abstract realm, especially since it's so easy to be conflated with them.

Le Daim (Deerskin)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Brattle Theatre Virtual Screening Room, internet)

About six years and three features ago, when reviewing Quentin Dupieux's Wrong Cops, I joked that the director of some of the decade's most entertaining bits of cinematic nonsense was "only a few films away from doing something eccentric but basically sensible". Deerskin doesn't have him quite there, but it's grounded in a way Dupieux's other films are not, for better or worse. It's maybe more mature, but less zany fun.

He introduces the audience to Georges (Jean Dujardin), who has taken to the road to buy a fancy Italian deerskin jacket that the previous owner (Albert Delpy) hasn't worn in some time, paying well enough that the man throws a video recorder in. After that, Georges checks into a hotel, making apologies for being short of cash, putting on airs and passing himself off as a filmmaker. He soon finds himself having conversations with his beloved jacket, which apparently wants to be the only jacket in the world, dovetailing nicely with how he would like to be the only person wearing a jacket. Meanwhile, the server at the hotel bar (Adèle Haenel) mentions that she enjoys video editing as a hobby, so he hires her to work on the film. She's not exactly sure what to make of the seemingly random footage Georges is shooting - or maybe she's got a better instinct for it than he does.

It's not long before the audience learns that Georges's marriage has reached its end in what appears to be tremendously acrimonious fashion, and him being a regular guy in the throes of some sort of breakdown rather than an inhabitant of an inherently bizarre world is a different approach for Dupieux. The way that Georges reacts - a desperate but befuddled need to be seen as cool although only half-heartedly willing to work for it - is a clever take on a man completely adrift after being rejected, and Jean Dujardin slips into the part perfectly, amiably befuddled and kind of sad as he talks to himself, but just with the right whiff of arrogance to it. He's one of those characters where his blank-ness is part of the point, and while Dujardin captures that, it doesn't necessarily draw the audience in.

Instead, Dupieux seems more interested in poking at "emperor has no clothes" situations, with Georges in his deerskin jacket and other accessories eventually succeeding in part because he looks the part of an artist, a testament to how far somebody who doesn't know what he's doing can get, even accidentally, so long as he looks the part to the point where he seemingly starts to believe it. Adèle Haenel's Denise is an interesting complement in that she buys into Georges's bullshit, but she also knows what she's doing, and between her taking money out of the ATM, seeing something in the footage that isn't initially there (at least consciously), and trying to shape it into something that makes sense. The artist, in this case, is not so important as the person who corrals him.

Does that necessarily apply to Dupieux himself? Maybe, although he does serve as his own editor and cinematographer (although he no longer scores his films despite being initially known as a musician). While there's not really enough story to his script for even a 77-minute movie, he does a few nifty things, such as the scenes where he talks with his jacket and Dupieux never moves or cuts but changes focus so that when the jacket "speaks", one can see it's also Georges, but it's just blurry enough or at the margins that the viewer sees it as an in-between thing, both the reality and delusion visible. He does a neat job of shooting Georges's encounters with people on the street so that they feel real and improvised. A lot of that seems to be just saying, screw it, we shoot through the snow, but it works.

All of this makes Deerskin feel a lot more specific than most of Dupieux's other features, although it is still random and eccentric in many ways. It is, I suppose, fitting that this more focused fim integrates someone trying to make sense out of a would-be filmmaker's nonsense into the story, even if I don't necessarily want to see this as the first film of a new, more grounded phase of his career.

Also on EFilmCritic

"Das Photo-Shoot"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (more Dupieux, Vimeo via Roku)

Hey, the model in this short is the lady from Rubber! Cool!

(And I guess the other guy is Marilyn Manson.)

This is kind of a one-joke film and the odds are good that you've heard that joke a few times before, but it's told pretty well - Quentin Dupieux may be poking fun at the idea of how a pretentious artiste gets a specific sort of idea in his head but can't truly communicate it, but he both gets the phenomenon well enough and how to get comedy out of repetition and sudden divergence well enough that it works. Manson plays the weirdo well enough and Roxane Mesquida nails the frustrated nonsense to this idiocy well enough to carry the short. The "hey, I have an idea, let's shoot this out back" vibe works but it never seems sloppy.

Simple bit, but it works.

"Being Flat"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (more Dupieux, YouTube via Roku)

One of the fun things about finding and watching this short via YouTube is having other videos featuring "Mr. Oizo" (Quentin Dupieux's nom de musique) and Flat Eric, who I think is the puppet that is sitting in the audience, pop up as recommendations, and getting the feeling that it works just as well with and without that other context. I don't even know that I want to seek that other context out; I just like knowing that it's there.

It is, as such, Dupieux compressed into seven minutes: Non-sequitur humor that still kind of holds together because there's this general strangeness, objects becoming characters, slow-burn lunacy broken by genuinely funny punchlines, and a nifty soundtrack that, even as things are careening completely out of control and maybe getting kind of dark, keeps it fun.

Okay, maybe I'll look for the other Flat Eric stuff.

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