Donkey Skin (1970)

Article 2051 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-26-2006
Posting Date: 3-25-2007
Directed by Jacques Demy
Featuring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, Jacques Perrin

A king vows to his dying queen that he will marry again when he finds a woman lovelier than her. The only woman he finds to match this description is his own daughter, the princess. He vows to marry her, but she disguises herself in a donkey skin, escapes with the help of her fairy godmother, and poses as a scullion in a local village.

This lovely French fairy tale would serve as a perfect companion to Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Cocteau’s name appears in the credits, though I don’t know enough French to say what his contribution was, though I suspect it was of an inspirational nature, as he was seven years dead when this was made). It may lack the bizarre surrealism of the aforementioned Cocteau movie, but it’s elegant, delightful, beautifully photographed with lovely sets, and makes stunning use of color throughout. It is also laced with a fine sense of humor, and there are touches of weirdness to the proceedings; there’s a donkey that produces precious jewels out of its -well, I’ll leave you to find this out for yourself-, the households of the two royal families are color-coded (right down to the skin color of the servants), there is an ugly old woman who spits up toads on occasion, and the king uses a decidedly modern form of transportation (a helicopter) in the final scenes. It’s also a fairy tale I was not familiar with, so the story did come as a surprise, though you’ll probably figure out that its writer (Charles Perrault) is the same one who gave us “Cinderella”, as there are some very marked similarities between the tales. Wonderful work from Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais and Delphine Seyrig (as the fairy godmother who has her own agenda).


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