Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin), 1970

I’ve had a Jacques Demy boxset sitting on my ‘to watch’ shelf for some years. I don’t remember where or when I bought it (I remember why, obviously: I wanted to watch the films) but I know it’s been sitting there for far too long (though not as long as others have). Recently, I decided it was about time I cracked it open. The last I watched, Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin), turned out to be my favourite, which I hadn’t expected at all. I’d thought I’d probably enjoy it, but prefer either Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) or Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort). But Donkey Skin it was! I feel like I’m in the minority, here, though.

It’s such a strange fairy tale to start with (I was familiar with the story, by Charles Perrault, before ever knowing of the film) and this adaptation fully embraces the absurdity. For those who don’t know, it’s basically about a king who decides he wants to marry his daughter (he had promised his wife, on her death bed, to not marry again unless it was to someone more beautiful than she) and so the princess ends up disguising herself in a donkey pelt and running away. (More or less).

030-donkey-skin-theredlistIt’s been described as part fairytale satire, and largely referencing Cocteau (apparently, I’m ashamed to admit to never having seen any of Cocteau’s films) yet still a fairytale film on its own. I feel this is apt. (You know, despite not having seen any of Cocteau’s films – I absolutely, certainly will at some point).

But, first, let’s talk costumes and sets, because they’re always what I notice first and think of the most. In terms of sets and set dressing, things that particularly caught my eye: Deneuve’s bed that looks like a meadow, living statues, the throne in the form of a gigantic white cat, the Lilac Fairy’s outdoors vanity and the touches of glam in Donkey Skin’s ramshackle cabin.

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New life goal: acquire cat shaped throne.

And then, to costumes, all of those dresses! My gosh. They’d be beautiful enough without the ‘gimmicks’ but they become ultra dazzling with clouds projected on them or luminous spots. It’s all very dreamy and whimsical. And even dressed like a donkey, Deneuve is radiant.

Wearing the skin of an ass. Still beautiful.

Wearing the skin of an ass. Still beautiful.

The Lilac Fairy was fantastic, too. Not least because of her Endora-esque costumes.

av7m8xr1_n0g28lThe playful poking of fun at fairy tale films was diverting, and I think most noticeable with the prince. The scene where he demands that all the maidens of the kingdom be rounded up to find the one girl who fits the ring, even though he obviously knows it belongs to Donkey Skin, highlights the absurdity of fairytale rituals and the almost capricious nature of the prince. I mean, I’m fairly certain that he’s also manipulating his parents, so they’ll let him marry Donkey Skin, but geez!

ecran8I hadn’t realised until I finished the film, but the princess/Donkey Skin becomes more interesting when she’s wearing the pelt than when she’s in the garb of her ‘true’ self (although her task setting for the king, under the intstruction of the Lilac Fairy is fun to watch, she seems more passive in her role as princess). I wonder if this is a pointed comment on the blandness of fairy tale princesses in many films or if I somehow related to her more as Donkey Skin. (Wonder if that’s something to worry about? Ha.)

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Oh, and the musical numbers were delightful! I especially enjoyed the song the Lilac Fairy sings about children not marrying their parents and the one about baking a cake. So strange, yet such fun. (I think that describes the film, on a whole, pretty well.)

Disjointed review aside, let’s leave it with saying I enjoyed this film immensely. I admit, the helicopter at the end had me stumped, though.

Within the past year (or so) I’ve watched maybe 4 European fairytale films and I think I want to watch more. Actually, I think I just want to watch more non-Disney fairytale films especially ones that embrace the strangeness of these stories. Any recommendations are most welcome.

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