Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault, Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin) is the story of a princess who goes into hiding after being asked by her father to marry him. Written for the screen and directed by Jacques Demy, the film is a whimsical musical-fantasy that plays into a princess who goes from riches-to-rags in order to do something for herself. Starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, Jacques Perrin, Micheline Presle, Fernand Ledoux, Henri Cremieux, Sacha Pitoeff, and Delphine Seyrig. Peau d’Ane is a charming and delightful film from Jacques Demy.
The film is a simple fairy tale where a king deals with the death of his wife where he makes a vow to marry a woman as beautiful as her in which he picks his own daughter much to her own horror as she goes into hiding wearing donkey skin as a robe and pretends to be a scullery maid. It’s a film that plays into the many elements that are expected in fairy tales but it is also very strange considering that hints ideas of incest. There, the princess (Catherine Deneuve) would try to find ways to not go through with this ordeal as she gets the help of her fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig) where the results would be humiliating but also a moment that would prompt the princess to find herself. The film’s screenplay does follow a traditional structure that is expected in fairy tales but with some of the dialogue that is sung as well as hints of anachronisms that add to the film’s offbeat humor. Yet, it is largely a fantasy as there aren’t any rules in that genre as it is all about the princess trying to find her true love and happiness.
Jacques Demy’s direction is very intoxicating not just in its approach to imagery but also in how he presents the film as an offbeat fairy tale. From the lavish costumes and set designs to the way servants, animals, and other things look, the film is definitely pure fantasy as Demy creates something that is off-the-wall such as a donkey who defecates gold and jewels for his king. Much of Demy’s direction include a lot of medium and wide shots to play into the look of the kingdom and its many locations in the forests while having this strange mix of elegance and dreariness in the world that the princess would embark. Notably as there are scenes of pure fantasy as it relates to the character of Prince Charming (Jacques Perrin) who would encounter the princess unaware of her true identity. It would then play into elements of comedy and mayhem as well as things that can’t explain that is more in tune with the world of fantasy. Overall, Demy creates a sensational and exhilarating film about a princess who refuses to marry her father.
Cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet does brilliant work with the film‘s very rich and colorful photography with its vibrant usage of the Technicolor film stock as plays into the beauty of the locations and settings as well as some unique lighting to play into the element of fantasy that occurs in the film. Editor Anne-Marie Crotet does excellent work with the editing with its stylish usage of slow-motion and reverse edits as well as rhythmic cuts to play into the musical elements in the film. Production designer Jim Leon and art director Jacques Dugied do amazing work with the set design from the look of the castles and its rooms to the shabby hut that the princess would live in her disguise along with the colors of the different kingdoms.
Costume designers Augusto Pace and Gitt Magrini do fantastic work with the costumes from the design of the dresses as well as the clothes the men wear as it plays into the period of time where men wore tights and the women wore lavish gowns. The sound work of Andre Hervee is terrific for some of the sound effects in some of the magical moments as well as some of the moments that goes on in some of the celebrations and other quieter scenes. The film’s music by Michel Legrand is incredible for not just its playful orchestral score but also in the songs that are created for the film as it play into emotions of a few of its characters as well as the sense of hope that they long for as the music is a major highlight of the film.
The film’s marvelous cast includes notable small roles from Pierre Repp as the Red Queen’s messenger Thibauld, Sacha Pitoeff as prime minister for the blue kingdom, Louise Chevalier as the old woman who would give the princess the work she needs to do at the farm, Henri Cremieux as the red kingdom’s physician, Fernand Ledoux and Micheline Presle in their respective roles as the Red King and Queen, and Jean Servais as the voice of the film narrator’s who only appears for the film’s opening and closing sections. Jacques Perrin is excellent as Prince Charming as a young prince who encounters the Princess unaware of her true identity nor her disguise as he falls for her and tries to find out who she is.
Delphine Seyrig is fantastic as the Fairy Godmother who tries to help the Princess while doing things that would baffle the Princess as Seyrig brings a lot of charm to her role including some amazing entrances. Jean Marais is superb as the King as a man who is grief-stricken by the loss of his wife where he is convinced that the only way to save his kingdom is to marry his daughter unaware of how disgusting it is. Finally, there’s Catherine Deneuve in a phenomenal performance in the dual role as the Queen and as her daughter in the Princess where her role in the former is very brief while the latter has Deneuve do a lot more in terms of singing and dealing with her situation as she would provide some charm and humility to her performance as it’s one of Deneuve’s finest roles.
Peau d’Ane is a remarkable film from Jacques Demy. Armed with a great cast, sumptuous visuals, and delightful music, the film isn’t just a fascinating take on a French fairytale but also a film that manages to infuse a lot of quirks and ideas that subvert many of its expectations. In the end, Peau d’Ane is an exquisitely rich film from Jacques Demy.
Jacques Demy Films: (Lola (1961 film)) - Bay of Angels - The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - The Young Girls of Rochefort - (Model Shop) - (The Pied Piper (1972 film)) - (A Slightly Pregnant Man) - (Lady Oscar) - (La Naissance du Jour) - (Une chambre en ville) - (Parking (1985 film)) - (Three Places for the 26th) - Turning Table)
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