Donkey Skin (1970)

Demy goes full-blown with his colour palette and visual style in this rather straightforward and sporadically engaging fairy tale about an incestuous king who wants to marry his daughter.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,400

Dir. Jacques Demy
1970 | France | Drama/Fantasy/Musical | 90 mins | 1.66:1 | French
PG (passed clean) for mature theme

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, Jacques Perrin
Plot: A fairy godmother helps a princess disguise herself and flee the kingdom so she won’t have to marry the king who happens to be her father.
Awards:
Distributor: Cine-Tamaris

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Incest; Princess; Love
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No


Donkey Skin was apparently Jacques Demy’s greatest success at the French box-office.  I don’t particularly feel that it is a strong work, but any collaboration between Demy and Catherine Deneuve is always worth seeing. 

Based on a fairy tale that is less familiar to folks outside of France, Donkey Skin tackles the theme of incest, taboo as it sounds, in the most flamboyant way possible—through a full-blown visual style and colour palette that see Demy one-up himself from the already intoxicatingly colourful The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) or The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967).  

When his wife unexpectedly dies, the King (played by Jean Marais of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast fame) hopes to fulfil his promise to her that he would remarry someone who is more beautiful than her. 

“Have fairy-tale princesses all disappeared?”

As the pressure to have a male heir to the throne mounts, the King sets his sights on his adult daughter (Deneuve in a charming role), who thwarts his repeated requests for her hand with the help of an older fairy. 

There are songs abound and despite the subject matter, it is a relatively pleasant experience as the King’s daughter goes on a journey covered in ‘donkey skin’, an unsightly and repulsive presence for those who encounter her. 

Some have praised Donkey Skin’s willingness to challenge taboos and the conventions of the fairy tale by handing agency back to the so-called damsel in distress. 

Ultimately, I feel Demy’s work here is rather straightforward and only sporadically engaging, forgoing the depth of his earlier cinema.  There are some cheeky, satirical moments to savour though, and the many homages to Cocteau that would be obvious enough to the seasoned cinephile.

Grade: B-


Music:

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