Jacket required

Deerskin director Quentin Dupieux on obsession, humour and horror in his latest film

by Richard Mowe

Quentin Dupieux: 'Some of my movies are crazy as you said but I think here the film is normal but it is the character who is strange'
Quentin Dupieux: 'Some of my movies are crazy as you said but I think here the film is normal but it is the character who is strange' Photo: Unifrance
He has been styled as a director who makes crazy films - yet Parisian-born Deerskin director Quentin Dupieux claims never to have “filmed insanity head-on”. In such offerings as Steak, Rubber, and Reality he says the characters were normal even if the surrounding universe was mad. There was also the equally crazy and rumbustious French-American comedy Wrong Cops, which premiered at Sundance seven years ago.

Quentin Dupieux: 'When I am directing a movie I need to talk to everyone and to understand everyone’s feelings'
Quentin Dupieux: 'When I am directing a movie I need to talk to everyone and to understand everyone’s feelings' Photo: Richard Mowe
For Deerskin (Le Daim) -variously described by the critics as “hilarious and unhinged” and “enjoyably demented” - his aim was to confront a character who goes off the deep end with no fancy tricks in the tale of a man who becomes obsessed with a jacket. He suggests proudly that it is his first horror film, which was launched in the Directors’ Fortnight at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Before becoming a director, he was better known as cult techno DJ Mr Oizo. His throbbing Flat Beat, soared to No 1 in the UK charts thanks to Mr Oizo’s partner in crime, Flat Eric, a dishevelled yellow puppet who appeared in a series of Levi’s adverts in the late 90s.

Richard Mowe: All your films are a bit crazy - but this one goes in a different direction. Did you want to throw everything up in the air and see how the pieces landed?

Quentin Dupieux: Some of my movies are crazy as you said but I think here the film is normal but it is the character who is strange. I am just following him, basically. There are no crazy jumps in the movie. There is nothing you cannot understand because the story is very simple. The character is lost …and we see a guy going down.

RM: I felt that, as a spectator, I started to see him as normal in a way. Was that your intention?

QD: I will tell that comment to Jean Dujardin because even if, as Georges, he is playing the worst dick, you still like him, partly because he has this charm, and he is good-looking. I love that about his performance, because his character is really dumb. Denise (Adèle Haenel) is smart but he is not. That is why we still feel for him. It is not like he is really a serial killer... he is killing because he wants to be the only one who is wearing the jacket, which makes him charming and touching. He does not like blood. He is not killing like a machine - he is killing because he has this one mission. I quickly realised that showing pure obsession, with no explanation for it, was like holding up a mirror for members of the audience.

RM :Where do you come by your crazy ideas?

Deerskin. Quentin Dupieux: 'My main goal is to entertain the audience. I don’t want to shock or bore you'
Deerskin. Quentin Dupieux: 'My main goal is to entertain the audience. I don’t want to shock or bore you' Photo: Unifrance
QD: It is different for every film. This one I know was because I was checking out a jacket online, just like the one he is wearing in the film, which was super expensive and from a famous brand. It was an amazing jacket, which a model was wearing, and it looked so classy. I kept the link on my browser and almost every day, I was checking the jacket. Is it still there, is it still so expensive, is it still looking good? I never bought it because it was so expensive and I would seem ridiculous with it. The price tag was something like £5000 from Ralph Lauren. I remembered at some point they cut the price and it was 50 per cent off. It is a very American thing because the obsession happened when I was living in LA where shopping online is such a big thing. Now I am back in Paris, I would never check out a jacket online.

RM: Did you talk about obsessions with Jean Dujardin?

QD: Before he even read the script, we had coffee together and I pitched the idea in a very simple way: It’s about a guy who lives his life to buy an expensive jacket and he becomes obsessed with the jacket, starts filming himself with the jacket a lot and suddenly he is having a relationship with the jacket, and the jacket has a mission for him. Jean is, like, "Stop there, the answer is yes". Eventually I gave him the script and he read it overnight and called me the next morning and confirmed that, yes, he was going to do it. That was amazingly quick response for an actor of his stature.

RM: And what was your pitch to Adèle [Haenel]?

QD:She is a very interesting woman because she said no at first. We met for a coffee and I pitched it the same way as with Jean, with the very basic lines, which if you summarise what she does in the movie could appear a little boring. She is playing a bartender and she is going to give the guy some money. Adèle decided that she was not really into it. She did not say yes but she took the script and we met up again and she said, "My character is not crazy enough". I said, "Really?". She said she would be happy to do it if Denise is at least as crazy as Georges. I think that is interesting, because without changing a line in the script she just played it crazy. She is the crazy one, and he is just a dumb, lost person. And that is all just in the way she acts.

RM Is there something pleasurable about making people in the audience feel uncomfortable?

QD: It is not something I am looking for. My main goal is to entertain the audience. I don’t want to shock or bore you. Because I’m exploring some weird zones then obviously some people do feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I write a joke, I film it then when I see it in the film I decide to cut it because to me it is a joke but nobody reacts. If that is the case, it is not a joke. I am trying honestly to make you laugh. That is top of my list: I want my films to be funny and if you don’t laugh I have failed and it is my problem.

I screened this one many times and then the reaction in the room during the Cannes screening convinced me it was a funny movie because so many people were laughing. Sometimes you have doubts, and here particularly because the subject is dark. I wanted to flirt with schlock, while always remaining faithful to the more realistic aspects of insanity. I realise that that has a very different effect on audiences. It perturbs them. They don’t know whether they’re supposed to be horrified by what they see, or whether they’re expected to laugh. I like that idea very much.

At some point it is not funny to see a guy killing people for no reason but still my main goal is to entertain you and make you laugh. For me that is the most rewarding thing about the job.

RM: I’m curious - what makes you laugh?

QD: I laugh a lot with kids because they are random and make jokes without knowing it and this makes me laugh.

RM Are you still involved with music?

The very odd couple: Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in Deerskin by Quentin Dupieux
The very odd couple: Jean Dujardin and Adèle Haenel in Deerskin by Quentin Dupieux Photo: Unifrance
QD: Yes - but as I am making a movie almost every year, I have less time for music. I still love it and when I have time, I go into a studio and record something. I am still performing live. These are two very different activities. Music is not particularly relaxing because sometimes I am playing in front of 50,000 people. So that is not relaxing in big festivals. It is like sport - it is a performance. I do not need to be brilliant with my mind when I am playing music - it is more about the energy. When I am directing a movie, I need to talk to everyone and to understand everyone’s feelings. I talk to all the actors but also the technical crew because I want everybody to be on the same page and happy. With the live music, I am more disposable because you could replace me and the audience probably would be just as pleased. The audience want to party and it is a different world. With a movie it is embarrassing when you are not proud of what you have shot.

RM: Did you have to interview many jackets for the film?

QD: Yes we had the possibility of “auditioning” ten jackets - Jean tried on ten but when he put on this one we both knew it was right: it is too short and a bit ridiculous but Jean could still be classy wearing it. And as for material of deerskin - deers are beautiful creatures and they would never kill another deer for no reason. Man is horrible and we do terrible things.

RM:What are your particular obsessions?

QD: It’s hard to explain because the trait is everywhere. I am obsessional about music because I am always trying to make the same piece. I recorded five studio albums and I have 250 tracks on Spotify and I am still trying to make the same one. And I am obsessional about cinema too - I would rather make ten movies as opposed to one expensive big one. And cars I am a bit crazy about: I had ten in LA and I still have two now I am back in Paris but I don’t know what to do with them. I am a bit single-minded about food too - I always like the same stuff and the same restaurants. I have my favourite places and I always order the same things but I think everyone does that to a certain extent.

RM: Are there any French directors to whom you feel particularly close in spirit?

QD: I would say Bertrand Blier [My Best Friend's Girl, Going Places]. I definitely feel close to him but don’t ask me to explain why any time soon.

RM:What was your time like living in the US?

QD: I lived for seven years in the US so I had to speak English to survive. They don’t speak much French in LA. I loved staying there for the weather, the outdoor life and the smiling people. And that’s it. I would go back for those reasons but after seven years, I felt it was time to go back to France. It’s nice but it is easy to see yourself becoming absolutely crazy when you live there. You have to drive everywhere - in seven years I had ten cars, as I mentioned! They are obsessed with cars and also the social life is scary. You have to plan something like ten days in advance just to set up a dinner. At 9.30pm everyone is gone because it is so late.

Deerskin will be released by Picturehouse later in the year. Richard Mowe talked to Quentin Dupieux at the Unifrance Rendezvous with French Cinema in Paris in January.

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