Donkey Skin (France, 1970):
(Peau d'âne)

Earthbound dailiness veils enchanted lyricism, just as the swooning realm of classic fairy-tales conceals anxieties -- to the dreamer, Jacques Demy, it's all a matter of believing, and feeling. In his version of the 17th-century Charles Perrault tale, balls are conducted with oversized animal-masks, roses sprout lips, hags spit frogs and the servants' skin is color-coordinated to their monarch's mood, though no-no subtext gets foregrounded alongside the naiveté. Grouchy king Jean Marais promises his expiring beloved (Catherine Deneuve, brunette) to only remarry a lovelier woman, which points him toward... blonde daughter Deneuve, warbling "Amour Amour, je t'aime tant" in the garden. "Children do not marry their parents, my child," sings Delphine Seyrig as the luxuriously scatterbrained Lilac Fairy, and soon the princess is asking Papa for the skin of his treasured, gold-shitting donkey -- supposedly a final pre-wedding whim, but actually a disguise so she can flee into the forest and play scullion, dirt smudged daintily on both cheeks as she awaits handsome prince Jacques Perrin. Incest, frequently submerged in Disney's heroines, is brought into the open here, yet Demy's gaze is free of malice, and the gliding Freudianism of little girls wanting to marry their daddies is but one of the subconscious fruits free-floating the sun-dappled woods, as childlike as the FX -- the spirit of Cocteau hovers not only over Marais, but also the transparent illusionism that shoots Seyrig through the roof by just playing the footage backwards. Michel Legrand's score is more (Burt) Bacharachian than bacchanalian, yet Deneuve sings a duet with herself, split between resplendent golden gown and smelly donkey skin, a ring dropped into the cake dough to precipitate the Cinderella finale. The king attends the festivities via helicopter, but parodic tweaking remains alien to Demy's touch, for the characters' emotions are no less fully felt for being covered in fairy-dust. With Micheline Presne, and Fernand Ledoux.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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