Brisk, brief, and blissfully strange, “Deerskin” could only have come from the possibly alien brain of France’s Quentin Dupieux. The writer-director — he has a second career as a successful electronic musician/DJ — invents absurdist premises that he then turns into deadpan Dada comedies. How absurdist? “Rubber” (2011), his best-known film in the United States, was about a homicidal automobile tire with the power to explode people’s heads.
Inanimate objects — things — are dangerous in Dupieux’s world, and in “Deerskin,” which is playing in a “virtual screening” via both the Brattle and Coolidge Corner, the object of desire is a jacket. It’s a handsome retro-hippie number, buckskin-brown with fringes along the sleeves and bottom, and it is the deranged obsession of one Georges (Jean Dujardin, Oscar-winning star of “The Artist”). Georges, who appears to be a well-to-do urbanite, arrives in a small town high in the French Pyrenees, to buy the jacket from an elderly man (Albert Delpy, Julie’s dad) who wore it a few times back in the ‘70s.
Right off the bat, we sense something off about Georges: a frosty farewell from a fed-up wife over the phone, a bank account that’s equally frozen. He’s so taken with his new purchase that he assumes everyone he meets is mad with jealousy. After a while he even starts talking to the jacket. After little while more, the jacket starts talking back.
A normal filmmaker would make clear that Georges has had a psychotic break of some sort. Quentin Dupieux is not a normal filmmaker. He just follows his hero calmly and affably into his derangement, well past the point where things turn bloody.
The jacket — its voice and thoughts provided by Georges — has a bit of a Napoleon complex: It wants to be the only jacket in the entire world. Which means that everybody else will have to give up their own jackets, whether they want to or not. Most don’t want to. Some force may be necessary.
Because the man who sold the jacket threw in a used digital camcorder as part of the deal, Georges is able to pass himself off to the local villagers as a visiting film director. He especially impresses Denise (Adèle Haenel, of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), the bartender at his hotel who, conveniently, is an out of work film editor. Would the stranger allow her to help out on the production? Of course — as soon as she empties her bank account to loan Georges the money his (non-existent) producers have held up.
If you’re sure you know who’s conning who, remember: Even the innocent aren’t innocent in a Dupieux film.
At a certain point, “Deerskin” gently lifts off from reality into another, goofier, more murderous plane of existence. The film finds a novel use for the blade of a ceiling fan and even as the local population starts to thin out — and the hero’s collection of dispossessed jackets grows ever larger — there seems to be remarkably little alarm on anyone’s part. Dupieux likes to set up camp inside his characters’ delusions and enjoy the view from there.
And Dujardin is excellent delusional company as Georges, a monomaniac so insufferably certain the universe spins around him and his deerskin prize that he tunes out any noise to the contrary, including most human interactions. Bearded and more than a little vain, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Fernando Rey, a favored leading man of surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie") and a similarly pompous figure of amusement.
Eventually, Georges adds to his wardrobe with a matching hat (“borrowed” from a suicidal hotel clerk), gloves, and boots. “Killer style,” he gloats upon seeing himself in the mirror, and the comment could apply to Dupieux’s entire filmography. This tale of a leather coat that wants to be God may not be the director’s finest work, but it’s certainly more than a fringe benefit.
Written and directed by Quentin Dupieux. Starring Jen Dujardin, Adèle Haenel. Available for streaming via the Brattle and Coolidge Corner theaters, at www.brattlefilm.org/virtual-programs/deerskin and coolidge.org/films/deerskin. In French, with subtitles. 77 minutes. Unrated (as R: graphic violence, language, vintage menswear)