Donkeyskin (Peau d'ane) (1970) dir. Jacques Demy. starring Catherine Deneauve, Jacques Perrin, Jean Marais, Baroness Delphine Seyrig,
We open on a book-case book-ended by blue lions rampant against an ivy covered wall. Michel LeGrand's music is beautiful here: stately but jazzy, with rococco flourishes. The music here seems almost too ornate, too frothy to ever penetrate but no...there it is: Deneauve's "Amour Fou" song in particular will persecute you relentlessly, jabbing away like a mosquito with boundary issues.
But I'm getting ahead of myself...
One particular leather-bound tome sweeps open and we're at a beautiful French castle with Jean Marais' handsome jaw jutting so far out of a window he looks like he'll need flying buttresses to hold it up.*
Jean Marais is the King. He is happy because he lives in a castle and has a beautiful wife and daughter and a donkey that shits gold. No really. This may be a fairy story but it's a French fairy story.
He also has this thing about the colour blue; he wears a lot of blue, his castle is blue and his servants are painted blue, even their faces. Clearly William Wallace was involved at the recruitment stage.
So everything's alright in the garden until, disaster, the Queen falls ill. And, get this, on her death bed she makes the King swear an oath not to marry again until he has found a woman more beautiful than her!
As an aside, at this point, I should point out that Deneauve is playing both the Queen and the Princess in this film and to play the dying Queen she wears a long red wig. The resemblance to her sister, and co-star in earlier Jacques Demy film "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon", Francoise Dorleac is quite uncanny. Dorleac had died in a car crash between the making of these two films and I find the effect quite disconcerting; adding a real frisson to these scenes.
The King agrees to her request, believing he will not have to act on it, and the Queen is buried - in a giant snow-storm. But the King's advisors will not let him be: they insist that it is bad for the state for him to remain Queenless and harangue him endlessly as he sits on his throne (which is a giant white Jeff Koons cat). They search throughout the land for eligible batchelorettes but they all ming to the highest mong, excepting one. She is graceful and regal, poised and self posessed. She exceeds even the dead Queen in all queenly qualities: she's his daughter. These are some of the worst advisors ever! How did the princess' portrait even get in there with the others?
At that moment the King sticks his head out of the window and there in the courtyard, dressed in blue, playing her harpsichord and singing about "l'amour fou" is the Princess - talk about playing into his big incestuous hands!
He decides to woo her by reading "the poets of the future" (Jean Cocteau at a guess - research? I don't do research!) while following her around the room like a sexually aggressive smell. Lynx Java, perhaps. He pops the question and, when she's not best pleased, rephrases it as more of a definite statement. He then goes to visit an Apothecary who has a nice line in leather-bound books and foaming conical flasks but a very poor line in advice, as he too thinks it's a capital idea for the King to marry his daughter. The King and his advisors seem to be a little bit "country". The princess, a little bit rock and roll, flits off in her dinghy to ask advice of her Fairy Godmother, the magnificent Delphine Seyrig. The foxy F.G. sings an excellent song advising that "a daughter who marries her father can expect nothing but tainted offspring". It's a bold but timely lyric and one the King should probably hear.
She sets the Princess up with a series of delaying tactics: she must demand of her father three impossible dresses; one the colour of the weather, one the colour of the moon and one the colour of the sun. If he cannot provide them for her she will not marry him. The King get's his best man on it and, with remarkable ease, the dresses are manufactured to her satisfaction. She's easily pleased: the sun dress is just gold, the moon one silver with spots and the weather dress is just clouds. Moving clouds admittedly but still just clouds!
The next request is the real stinger though: she promises to marry him if he gives her the skin of his magic bauble-shitting donkey. This is bad news; the King relies upon regular deposits from the bank of ass. He gets pondery with the quandary until the wee small hours and finally delivers the pelt personally while princess feigns sleep. Realising that she cannot escape from her father's nuptual intentions, she slips on the skin (donkey-jacket anyone?) and heads off into the night.
And there, I think, I'll leave it because I really do want everybody to see this film. This is candy-coloured craziness from first to last; a great, gaudy puzzle of a film. Look out for:
A slo-motion Catherine Deneauve, dressed as a wobbly-headed donkey, running through the forest. The flowers that wink and smile, the old lady who spits frogs, the topless women living in bushes in the King's throne room, and the ending, which has to be seen to be believed.
The only films "Donkeyskin" even vaguely resembles are "Valerie and her Week of Wonders" (a bit more Angela Carter-y) and "The Bluebird" (a bit more rubbish. Though it does feature George Cole as a dog.)Neither of which are half as much fun.
This film is beyond camp, beyond kistch and beyond much of cinema. You've seen nothing like it. So see it.
*yer actual Medieval architecture joke there.