Friday 16 July 2021


Starring Oscar winner Jean Dujardin and Portrait of a Lady On Fire's Adele Haenel, Quentin Dupieux's latest film sees middle-aged man in a crisis Georges (Dujardin) slowly become obsessed with his new Deerskin jacket, posing as a filmmaker in a small town and turning to crime in order to complete his new look.

Dupieux - also known as Mr Oizo to fans of 90s Levi's ads - returns to behind the camera with this pairing with The Artist's Jean Dujardin to tell the story of a man who, following his separation from his wife, becomes obsessed with his new Deerskin jacket. While staying in a small French village Georges, posing as a filmmaker, meets Denise (Haenel), a bartender and aspiring film editor who sees Georges as her ticket out of there. Unaware of Georges's precarious mental state, together they collaborate on his "avant garde" video diary as he forces strangers to give up their outerwear, with the aim that his jacket will be the only one left in existence, turning to murder to make sure the job is done.

Dujardin is fantastic as the pompous, preening Georges, forever enthusiastic about adding gloves, a hat, or another deerskin piece to his outfit and looking ever more laughable along the way. The jacket, even with all its tassels intact (a very important measure in fashion) is a horrible looking garment, but Georges's cocksure belief that he's standing out from the crowd as a new fashion icon is never undersold by Dujardin, delivering a great comic performance that's tapping into the rich vein of ridiculousness that exists in the easily mockable fashion for men of a certain age. Admittedly, dressing head to toe in deerskin isn't a fashion choice you often see, but is it really so different to mid-life crisis leather pants or wearing a James May-esque bold print shirt?

There was perhaps an expectation that Dujardin would make a leap to Hollywood films after his, some would say, surprising Best Actor Oscar win for The Artist, but as fans of his work in the OSS 117 series will attest, he's completely at home and in his element here in this smaller, bizarre film that plays up to his charming doofus-like strengths. Dujardin plays Georges with an un-earned confidence in himself, portraying such a clueless, self-important lunatic who's convinced everyone around him is jealous of his cutting edge fashion, or as Georges would put it, his "killer style". Fans of Dupieux's previous work, in particular his sentient killer tyre film Rubber, will know what sort of humour to expect from him. This is a dark, often ghoulish comedy that revels in its unpredictability and shock value, generating lots of laughs from the sheer boldness of its character choices. As Georges falls deeper and deeper under the spell of the jacket which may slowly be exerting some sort of psychic power over him (it may all be a figment of his imagination), the film delights in delivering the horror beneath, as Georges efficiently (and hilariously) crafts a disturbingly effective murder weapon out of a ceiling fan.

There's a lot in Dupieux's work that goes far beyond the surface thrills, and Deerskin is no different. Not only is the dynamic between Dujardin's deluded killer and the much younger Denise (the always excellent Haenel) mocking that stereotype of a man who has hit a certain age and then found himself a younger woman, the choice of Dupieux to have Georges wait outside a cinema to kill off its patrons as they leave is a comic assault on his audience. If you think you're going to be safe and free from his pervasive ideas when you leave the cinema, think again. A delightful new addition to the "killer clothing" sub-genre, Deerskin is In Fabric for men in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Less off the rack as it is off the wall, it's an absolute gem of a film.



Reunited more than 50 years after they competed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the surviving members of the Japanese Olympic volleyball team reminisce about their incredible sporting success. So impressive was their winning streak that it was looked at as almost otherworldly, leading the foreign press to dub them the "Witches of the Orient". Using new interviews, vintage anime and archive footage of their training sessions, Julian Faraut's new film charts the team's rise from humble factory floor beginnings to facing off against their biggest rivals in an Olympic final.

One of the highlights of February's Rotterdam International Film Festival, French director Julian Faraut's Witches of the Orient (Les Sorcieres de L'Orient in its original French) is a fascinating blend of archive materials and volleyball anime - a subgenre that sprang up at the height of the team's success and that is still being made today - along with new interviews with the team, now all in their seventies. Gathered around a grand roundtable - the setting for a catch up meal rather than an in depth interview - Faraut nods to the level of fame and hero-worship they once received by introducing each player with stylised on-screen graphics. More appropriate for characters from a Saturday morning cartoon that a group of septuagenarians, these intro's reveal the taunting, often cruel nicknames they played under (Blowfish, Horse, Kettle, to name just a few), bestowed upon them by their coach, Hirofumi 'The Demon' Daimatsu, based on how he judged their physical appearances. 

It's certainly jarring by modern standards to see such an un-PC approach to coaching, and alongside the footage of Daimatsu relentlessly hurling balls at his team, it stands as both a relic of a different time and a (not excused) display of how he pushed them to greatness, training them 6 days a week, 51 weeks a year. Maybe it's Stockholm syndrome or just the ability to look back on their youth with fondness, but the team all remember the barbs and nicknames in good humour, and have a lot of praise to offer for Daimatsu.

The film follows the team's humble beginnings from the Nichibo Kaizuka factory - with players graduating from the factory floor to becoming part of the sports team - all the way through their success at the World Volleyball Championships and towards the prospects of bringing home Olympic gold. As fate would have it, Tokyo was chosen as the host city for the 1964 Olympics, marking the first time television would be broadcast from Asia to the United States as well as the introduction of two new Olympic sports, judo and volleyball. With huge political and cultural ramifications as well as national pride at stake - particularly when the volleyball team were to face their biggest rivals, the USSR, in the final - the importance of winning wasn't lost on these women.

Paralleling their success with that of Japanese industry, Faraut employs a number of energetic montages to show how the team was trained to win. Cut together to create a collage of animation, old footage and a propulsive new synth soundtrack courtesy of Grandaddy's Jason Lytle, Witches of the Orient resembles something akin to a music video Spike Jonze would have made at the turn of the millennium. The volleyball anime that shows them leaping like superheroes is incredibly fun to watch and gives the film a truly unique way of telling the story of these women. Likewise the footage of them training, showing the relentless regimen they were under, has a rhythmic quality that pulls you into their world.

Where the film does hit a wall, somewhat, is in the modern day interviews with the players. We see their family lives as doting grandmothers (and in one case a still active love for volleyball), but these sequences do go on longer than necessary and stop the momentum the film builds with its archive material. Faraut's approach is about offering these clashes in speed and sources, switching gears from a Portishead scored montage to a more sedate, formal documentary 'slice-of-life' style, but an argument could be made that had he presented a documentary that was solely comprised of just the archive, all the high points would remain intact.

In the same way his 2018 tennis doc In the Realm of Perfection was less an expose of John McEnroe as a public figure of some repute, and more a dissection of the mechanics of how McEnroe was such a skilled athlete, where this film succeeds is in selling the Nichibo Kaizuka team as a force to be reckoned with. As the film sets into the final showdown against the team from the Soviet Union, the reveal of the restoration work on the original film is incredible, looking and sounding as good as new. I'm sure the original footage was passable, but the attention it's been afforded gives this film the sporting climax it deserves. Director Julian Faraut has crafted a truly fascinating documentary on the young lives of these women and the pressure they were under to succeed from the powers that be. Inventively presented and compelling, Witches of the Orient is a gripping, joyous experience. 



Witches of the Orient is in cinemas now, and available to stream at home via

Monday 5 July 2021


Part of the 'Northern Focus' strand at this year's Sheffield DocFest, I Get Knocked Down sees retired radical and former Chumbawamba frontman Dunstan Bruce reckon with his role in taking the group - temporarily - into the mainstream by signing with major record label EMI and achieving chart success, well away from their anarcho-punk roots that had served the band for the previous 15 years.

Sheffield DocFest has a history of offering great docs on forgotten or unheralded figures from the world of music (such as an infamous early screening of Searching for Sugarman where they surprised the audience by bringing the presumed dead Rodriguez out on stage), but if you'd have told me one of my favourite docs of the festival this year would be fronted by the former lead singer of Chumbawamba, I'd certainly have been surprised. Sure, I bought their anthemic single Tubthumping back in the late 90s (and still own a copy), but would a documentary about the rise and fall of the self-proclaimed anarchist pop stars really offer that much? As it turns out, yes, as I Get Knocked Down was an energetic ride through life on the outskirts of stardom, with that brief moment before the millennium where this little band from Leeds exploded onto the world stage and could lay claim to have the biggest song in the world.

Co-directing with Sophie Robinson, Bruce serves as our guide through the history of the band, visiting his former bandmates (drummer Harry now works in a family friendly musical variety show, singer Alice Nutter - interviewed doing her ironing - is now a successful writer) and their most infamous exploits - like when guitarist Danbert Nobacon became front page news by dumping a bucket of ice over MP John Prescott's head at the 1998 Brit Awards, leading to his parents receiving the best piece of hate mail I've ever heard of, "I hope Burnley get relegated". All the while Bruce is shadowed by a mysterious baby-headed figure (taken from the cover of their breakout 8th album, Tubthumper), who stalks his every move to offer withering putdowns about the now 59 year old Bruce's ego and desire for artistic recognition. I Get Knocked Down is a documentary that isn't afraid to get a bit surreal.

Asking the question of whether the band's contribution to political causes absolves them of forever bearing the Scarlet Letter tag of 'sell outs', it's a film that will have many ageing activists asking if they've done enough, particularly after the year 2020 was when the power of protest was so evident. Bruce still clearly has activism close to his heart (he laments that "once upon a time I really thought I could change the world"), and this film is a loving tribute to all former radicals who may have had some of their rough edges sanded off over time, but are still able to stand with their principles intact. This year's hidden gem from DocFest's selection of music docs, I Get Knocked Down is madcap, witty and formally inventive - what else would you expect from the frontman of Chumbawamba?



This review is expanded from my write-up for this year's festival, which can be found here.