Donkey Skin


1h 30m 1970
Donkey Skin

Brief Synopsis

A princess masquerades as a commoner to escape her evil father.

Film Details

Also Known As
Donkey's Skin, Peau d'ane
Genre
Romance
Drama
Fantasy
Release Date
1970
Location
France

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Synopsis

A princess disguises herself as a donkey in order to avoid marrying her widowed father.

Film Details

Also Known As
Donkey's Skin, Peau d'ane
Genre
Romance
Drama
Fantasy
Release Date
1970
Location
France

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)

Articles

Donkey Skin


After achieving worldwide success with his third feature, the enchanting 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, French director Jacques Demy was courted by Hollywood. He and his wife, fellow director Agnes Varda, spent two years (1967-69) working in Los Angeles, with each of them making a film there. Peau d'Ane (Donkey Skin), a musical version of the 1694 French fairy tale by Charles Perrault, was Demy's first film after returning to France.

The story is less well known outside of France than Perrault's other tales such as "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty," probably because of the suggestion of incest in its plot. Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg star Catherine Deneuve plays the ideal storybook princess of Perrault's story, who is so beautiful (she's the image of her late mother, also played by Deneuve) that her widowed father the king sees nothing wrong with making her his second wife. Unwilling to wed her own father, the princess consults her godmother, the Lilac Fairy (the sleek Delphine Seyrig, styled as a platinum-bobbed 1930s siren), who advises her to demand a series of seemingly impossible gifts in exchange for her hand in marriage. When the king manages to fulfill her wishes, more drastic action is called for: the princess asks for the skin of her father's pet donkey, a remarkable creature that excretes gold and jewels. Disguised by the donkey skin, the Princess flees to another kingdom, where she meets a prince (Jacques Perrin), and more adventures await before her happily ever after.

Always fascinated by fairy tales, Demy recalled in an interview that as a child he staged puppet shows of all of Perrault's stories. Donkey Skin had been one of his favorites, and he had wanted to make a film of it as far back as 1962, in which he hoped to cast Brigitte Bardot and Anthony Perkins, both big international stars at the time. Demy was not yet established as a bankable filmmaker, but after the success of his earlier films and his sojourn in Hollywood, his producer Mag Bodard was finally able to secure financing. "I tried to make the film from the perspective of my eyes when I was eight years old," he said. Demy also paid tribute to France's greatest fairytale film, Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946), by casting Jean Marais, who played the Beast in that classic, as the king in Donkey Skin. The homage to Cocteau's masterpiece also includes Marais's wide-shouldered, large-collared costume, similar to the Beast's; and some of the set decoration, including a living caryatid, a statue that is a barely glimpsed visual throwaway. There are other surreal touches in the film, such as the king's throne shaped like a giant cat, and the courtiers and horses that are painted blue in the princess's kingdom, and red in prince's kingdom. In a fairytale world, of course, none of this is remarkable or even commented upon. However, Donkey Skin's visual style and cinematography are more akin to Demy's own color-saturated musicals than to Cocteau's films. Michel Legrand again provided the lilting, jazz-inflected score, as he had for Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort.

Donkey Skin was shot on location in some of France's most glorious fairytale castles, the Chateau de Chambord (the princess's castle) and the Chateau du Plessis-Bouree (the blue king's castle) in the Loire Valley, along with the Chateau de Pierrefonds in Picardy for the finale. The ancient town of Senlis with its restored medieval streets, squares, and buildings was also used for location shooting. Demy had imagined "a shimmering luxurious film," with a "Hollywood look." But furnishing large, empty rooms in the castles was challenging, given the limited budget. The film's production designer worked wonders with only stained glass windows and a few, well-placed objects that managed to suggest greater riches beyond; ivy draped on the walls substituted for wall hangings. The princess's bed was supposed to be a giant flower that opened up, but the mechanics malfunctioned. Demy had noticed some statues of stags at the entrance to the chateau, and had them brought up to the bedroom and placed them like sentries by the bed. The donkey skin that Deneuve wore, however, was real, obtained from a slaughterhouse, thoroughly cleaned and lined with fabric. Demy claimed that Deneuve was not aware that the skin was from a real donkey. In spite of the cost-cutting measures, filming went well over budget, and production shut down while Demy downscaled his plans. In spite of his efforts, the film did go significantly over budget. The finished film, according to Demy, was "an inspired mixture of makeshift and magic."

Most French critics greeted Donkey Skin enthusiastically. Jean-Louis Bory of the Nouvel Observateur praised it for maintaining "the confusion between the real and the marvelous... which is the essence of enchantment." For Robert Chazal of France-Soir, "The charm works from the first frame. And the enchantment -- sometimes tinged with humor for adults -- is growing." But a few, especially partisans of the work of New Wave filmmakers, found it stuffy and stale. Years later, writing about Varda's 2003 restoration of Donkey Skin, American critic Roger Ebert somewhat agreed with the latter, but added, "Nevertheless, it provides a visual feast and fanciful imaginations." Regardless of the critics, the French public embraced the film, making it the 12th most popular film of 1970 in France, and Demy's top box office hit of all his work. Demy returned to the fairy tale genre for 1972's British-American co-production, The Pied Piper starring pop star Donovan, but neither that film nor any of his subsequent ones equaled the popularity of Donkey Skin.

Director: Jacques Demy
Producer: Mag Bodard
Screenplay: Jacques Demy, based on the tale by Charles Perrault
Cinematography: Ghislain Cloquet
Editor: Anne-Marie Cotret
Costume Design: Agostino Pace and Gitt Magrini
Art Direction: Jacques Dugied
Music: Michel Legrand
Principal Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Blue Queen/Princess/Donkey Skin), Jean Marais (Blue King), Delphine Seyrig (Lilac Fairy), Jacques Perrin (Prince), Micheline Presle (Red Queen), Fernand Ledoux (Red King), Pierre Repp (Thibaud), Sacha Pitoeff (the Prime Minister), Henri Cremieux (the Doctor)
90 minutes

by Margarita Landazuri
Donkey Skin

Donkey Skin

After achieving worldwide success with his third feature, the enchanting 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, French director Jacques Demy was courted by Hollywood. He and his wife, fellow director Agnes Varda, spent two years (1967-69) working in Los Angeles, with each of them making a film there. Peau d'Ane (Donkey Skin), a musical version of the 1694 French fairy tale by Charles Perrault, was Demy's first film after returning to France. The story is less well known outside of France than Perrault's other tales such as "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty," probably because of the suggestion of incest in its plot. Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg star Catherine Deneuve plays the ideal storybook princess of Perrault's story, who is so beautiful (she's the image of her late mother, also played by Deneuve) that her widowed father the king sees nothing wrong with making her his second wife. Unwilling to wed her own father, the princess consults her godmother, the Lilac Fairy (the sleek Delphine Seyrig, styled as a platinum-bobbed 1930s siren), who advises her to demand a series of seemingly impossible gifts in exchange for her hand in marriage. When the king manages to fulfill her wishes, more drastic action is called for: the princess asks for the skin of her father's pet donkey, a remarkable creature that excretes gold and jewels. Disguised by the donkey skin, the Princess flees to another kingdom, where she meets a prince (Jacques Perrin), and more adventures await before her happily ever after. Always fascinated by fairy tales, Demy recalled in an interview that as a child he staged puppet shows of all of Perrault's stories. Donkey Skin had been one of his favorites, and he had wanted to make a film of it as far back as 1962, in which he hoped to cast Brigitte Bardot and Anthony Perkins, both big international stars at the time. Demy was not yet established as a bankable filmmaker, but after the success of his earlier films and his sojourn in Hollywood, his producer Mag Bodard was finally able to secure financing. "I tried to make the film from the perspective of my eyes when I was eight years old," he said. Demy also paid tribute to France's greatest fairytale film, Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946), by casting Jean Marais, who played the Beast in that classic, as the king in Donkey Skin. The homage to Cocteau's masterpiece also includes Marais's wide-shouldered, large-collared costume, similar to the Beast's; and some of the set decoration, including a living caryatid, a statue that is a barely glimpsed visual throwaway. There are other surreal touches in the film, such as the king's throne shaped like a giant cat, and the courtiers and horses that are painted blue in the princess's kingdom, and red in prince's kingdom. In a fairytale world, of course, none of this is remarkable or even commented upon. However, Donkey Skin's visual style and cinematography are more akin to Demy's own color-saturated musicals than to Cocteau's films. Michel Legrand again provided the lilting, jazz-inflected score, as he had for Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. Donkey Skin was shot on location in some of France's most glorious fairytale castles, the Chateau de Chambord (the princess's castle) and the Chateau du Plessis-Bouree (the blue king's castle) in the Loire Valley, along with the Chateau de Pierrefonds in Picardy for the finale. The ancient town of Senlis with its restored medieval streets, squares, and buildings was also used for location shooting. Demy had imagined "a shimmering luxurious film," with a "Hollywood look." But furnishing large, empty rooms in the castles was challenging, given the limited budget. The film's production designer worked wonders with only stained glass windows and a few, well-placed objects that managed to suggest greater riches beyond; ivy draped on the walls substituted for wall hangings. The princess's bed was supposed to be a giant flower that opened up, but the mechanics malfunctioned. Demy had noticed some statues of stags at the entrance to the chateau, and had them brought up to the bedroom and placed them like sentries by the bed. The donkey skin that Deneuve wore, however, was real, obtained from a slaughterhouse, thoroughly cleaned and lined with fabric. Demy claimed that Deneuve was not aware that the skin was from a real donkey. In spite of the cost-cutting measures, filming went well over budget, and production shut down while Demy downscaled his plans. In spite of his efforts, the film did go significantly over budget. The finished film, according to Demy, was "an inspired mixture of makeshift and magic." Most French critics greeted Donkey Skin enthusiastically. Jean-Louis Bory of the Nouvel Observateur praised it for maintaining "the confusion between the real and the marvelous... which is the essence of enchantment." For Robert Chazal of France-Soir, "The charm works from the first frame. And the enchantment -- sometimes tinged with humor for adults -- is growing." But a few, especially partisans of the work of New Wave filmmakers, found it stuffy and stale. Years later, writing about Varda's 2003 restoration of Donkey Skin, American critic Roger Ebert somewhat agreed with the latter, but added, "Nevertheless, it provides a visual feast and fanciful imaginations." Regardless of the critics, the French public embraced the film, making it the 12th most popular film of 1970 in France, and Demy's top box office hit of all his work. Demy returned to the fairy tale genre for 1972's British-American co-production, The Pied Piper starring pop star Donovan, but neither that film nor any of his subsequent ones equaled the popularity of Donkey Skin. Director: Jacques Demy Producer: Mag Bodard Screenplay: Jacques Demy, based on the tale by Charles Perrault Cinematography: Ghislain Cloquet Editor: Anne-Marie Cotret Costume Design: Agostino Pace and Gitt Magrini Art Direction: Jacques Dugied Music: Michel Legrand Principal Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Blue Queen/Princess/Donkey Skin), Jean Marais (Blue King), Delphine Seyrig (Lilac Fairy), Jacques Perrin (Prince), Micheline Presle (Red Queen), Fernand Ledoux (Red King), Pierre Repp (Thibaud), Sacha Pitoeff (the Prime Minister), Henri Cremieux (the Doctor) 90 minutes by Margarita Landazuri

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1970

Released in United States November 1971

Released in United States on Video May 1987

Released in United States 1970

Released in United States on Video May 1987

Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) November 4-14, 1971.)