Monday, 28 September 2009

Donkey Skin/Peau d'ane (1970)

Over the years there have been many, many screen actresses that one could describe as attractive or cute or glamorous or sexy or even beautiful, but very few that you would call absolutely gorgeous. Grace Kelly was one and the young Catherine Deneuve was another -- not that she is any slouch in the looks stakes now in her sixties.

This is one of four films that she made with the innovative director Jacques Demy and it forms a loose trilogy with his other movies with her and a musical score from Michel Legrand: "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" (1964) and "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" (1967). All three are brightly-coloured confections where all or much of the dialogue is sung. This one is based on a fairy tale by Charles Perrault, although one that is marginally more suitable for adults than children. She plays a princess whose father, Jean Marais, has promised his dead queen that he would only remarry if he could find a princess more beautiful than she was. He looks in vain until he spots his ignored daughter and decides to marry her! The princess knows that this would be wrong and consults with her fairy godmother, Delphine Seyrig, how to avoid this. First she requests increasingly more beautiful and seemingly impossible-to-create gowns, and when this fails she asks for the skin of the king's prize donkey who literally craps gold coins and jewels ("My banker").

Finally she escapes from the palace wearing the donkey's skin over her shoulders, smears some dirt on her face (making her unrecognizable a la Clark Kent), and becomes a scullion in a far-flung village where everyone thinks she is hideous! One day she is spotted by the local prince, Jacques Perrin (the grown-up Toto from "Cinema Paradiso") who falls lovesick. He refuses to eat and finally asks for a cake baked by the so-called Donkey Skin in which she secretes her ring. There then follows a Cinderella-style scenario where only the lady whose finger fits the ring can become the prince's bride -- a somewhat less difficult task than fitting a shoe. None of the great ladies in his realm can wear the ring nor the lowest of servants, until of course Deneuve appears. So they marry and live happily for the next 100 years. But what of King Marais you ask? Well he arrives by helicopter (a totally anachronistic touch) with her fairy godmother whom he plans to wed.

I had seen this film once before and do not recall feeling one way or the other about it. This second viewing, however, was a totally joyous experience. I think I must be getting a little soppy in my dotage!
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