Monthly Film – December

Donkey Skin (Peau d’âne) 1970
by Jacques Demy

POSTER FOR MAILWednesday 16th December 2015 – 6.00pm
National Film Corporation Theater
303, Bauddhaloka Mawatha,
Colombo 7.




Donkey Skin (Peau d'âne)
Peau d’Âne (English: Donkey Skin) is a 1970 French musical film directed by Jacques Demy. It is also known by the English titles Once Upon a Time and The Magic Donkey. It stars Catherine Deneuve and Jean Marais, with music by Michel Legrand. Donkey Skin also proved to be Demy’s biggest success in France with a total of 2,198,576 admissions. The film was adapted by Demy from Donkeyskin, a French literary fairytale written in verse by Charles Perrault. It was first published in 1695 in a small volume and republished in 1697 in Perrault’s Histoires ou contes du temps passé. Andrew Lang included it, somewhat euphemized, in The Grey Fairy Book. It is similar in style to folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 510B, unnatural love.


A king had a beautiful wife and a rich castle, including a marvelous donkey whose droppings were gold. One day his wife died, after making him promise not to marry except to a woman whose beauty and attributes equaled hers. The king grieved, but was, in time, persuaded to seek another wife. It became clear that the only woman who would fit the promise was his own daughter.

She went to her fairy godmother who advised her to make impossible demands as a condition of her consent: a dress the color of the sky, a dress the color of the moon, a dress as bright as the sun, and finally, the hide of his marvelous donkey. Such was the king’s desire to marry her that he granted all of them. The fairy godmother gave her a marvelous chest to contain all she owned and told her that the donkeyskin would make an excellent disguise.
Illustration by Gustave Doré

The princess fled and eventually found a royal farm where they let her work in the kitchen, despite her ugliness in the donkeyskin. On feast days, she would dress herself in the fine gowns her father had given her, and one such day, the prince came by her room and peeped through the keyhole. He fell in love at once, fell ill with his longing, and declared that nothing would cure him but a cake baked by Donkeyskin, and nothing they could say of what a dirty creature she was dissuaded him.

When Donkeyskin baked the cake, a ring of hers fell in it. The prince found it and declared that he would marry only the woman whose finger it fit. Every other woman having failed, he insisted that Donkeyskin try, and it fit. When she had dressed herself in her fine gowns, his parents were reconciled with the match. Donkeyskin later found that her father had remarried to a beautiful widow and everyone lived happily ever after.

Veuf et inconsolable, le roi, qui a promis à sa femme mourante de ne se remarier qu’avec une femme plus belle qu’elle, découvre soudain la beauté radieuse de sa fille et décide de l’épouser. Horrifiée, la jeune fille requiert l’aide de sa marraine, la fée des Lilas. Celle-ci lui conseille de demander à son père d’impossibles présents. Mais chacune de ses exigences est aussitôt satisfaite. Pour finir, drapée dans les robes couleur de Temps, couleur de Lune et couleur de Soleil qu’elle a obtenues de son père, la princesse formule un dernier voeu. Elle exige la peau de l’âne qui, chaque matin, laisse des diamants et des écus dans sa litière. Une fois encore, le roi s’exécute. En désespoir de cause, la princesse s’enfuit, vêtue de sa peau d’âne…

Reviews of the film

Overall, this film, like the other films, has something for everyone – the touchstone of the well-constructed story. Demy’s easy camera and wistful use of Michel Legrand’s compositions belie the wonderful depth of his engagement with his materials. In this series that the film societies have been showing images that clearly owe so much to the French New Wave slip seamlessly past, tied to the music and song that Demy uses to at once engage and alienate us from the action, offering us so many other opportunities for interpretation. This, for me, has been a discovery, at once delicious and at the same time challenging – I love it.
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~ GREGOR CAMERON, The Lumière Reader

Jacques Demy est un maître doux qui se permet tout. Devenu cinéaste, le petit garçon qui croyait que la vraie vie était dans les contes transforme les contes en réalité. Sa fée des Lilas (« Un mélange de Jean ­Harlow et de Botticelli, un peu poule, un peu fleur », dira Demy) a des peines de coeur faiblement humaines et célèbre l’hymen de sa ­protégée en hélicoptère… Son roi se permet de beaux anachronismes, par exemple en citant des vers de Cocteau. Et Peau d’âne a parfois des allures de créature hippie, chantant à pleins poumons les vertus de la fumette !

Jacques Demy a dû attendre neuf ans pour tourner à Chambord cette féerie psychédélique inspirée du pop art, découvert pendant son exil à Los Angeles, et des marionnettes de chiffon du guignol de son enfance nantaise. Sa patience est récompensée : son film est un véritable enchantement, porté par l’inoubliable musique de Michel Legrand.

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~ Marine Landrot – télé