The education of a princess wrapped in a love story. A king and queen live happily until her sudden death. The king decides to marry his lovely daughter. She's willing, but the Lily Fairy serves as a social conscience, intent on thwarting incest. She instructs the princess to request a series of dresses impossible to make; however, the king's tailor succeeds. So the fairy plots the princess's escape, wearing the skin of the king's prize donkey. She's spirited away to be a scullery maid dressed in the noisome skin. A wandering prince sees her in the woods and is smitten. Can love find its course, and does the princess learn a lesson of life's hardships? Written by
A fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig) helps a princess (Catherine Deneuve) disguise herself so she will not have to marry a man (Jean Marais) she does not love.
Jacques Demy loved fairy tales since childhood, and they remained a strong presence in his life. He attempted to make a Sleeping Beauty film in the 1950s, and ended up putting fairy tale references in both "Lola" (1961) and "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964). With "Donkey Skin", he finally succeeded, and made what could be his greatest film.
He also cast Catherine Deneuve, possibly Europe's greatest actress, and his constant muse. Rounding out the talent was Italian costume designer Gitt Magrini, who is apparently not a well-known figure, but based solely on this film ought to be.
Numerous elements in the film refer to Jean Cocteau's 1946 fairy tale film "Beauty and the Beast": the casting of Jean Marais (who had been Cocteau's beast), the use of live actors to portray human statues in the castles, and the use of simple special effects such as slow motion and reverse motion.
There is also the influence of Walt Disney. Demy himself noted in 1971, "When I wrote the scene where we see Donkey Skin kneading the dough and singing the song of the love cake, I saw Snow White, assisted by birds, preparing a pie." What are we to make of the incest theme? Interestingly, the whole concept seems to be ignored, with the idea of father-daughter love being wrong only on practical, never moral, grounds. What is the film trying to say? Demy returned to this theme in "Three Seats for the 26th" (1988), although in a very different context.
There is also the unusual blend of fairy tale and modernity, both in the "poetry of the future" and a later reveal concerning transportation. Again, how are we to interpret this? Is it all a dream, a fantasy world outside of time itself?
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