Friday, 9 December 2011

Friday Night Film: Peau d'Ane

Once upon a time, there was a country called France. In this mythical place lived a film director and a composer called Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand. Jacques was a technically brilliant director with a love of technicolor musicals; Michel had his moments, but tended to recycle leitmotifs a lot. They were both a little bit in love with a beautiful princess called Catherine Deneuve. Their first two films were bright and colourful, modern and cool. Their third film together was a musical fairy tale, and it was called 'Peau D'ane', or 'Donkey Skin'.

Based on a story collected by Charles Perrault, 'Donkey Skin' tells of a Princess whose comfortable existence at a happy court comes to an abrupt end with the death of her mother. After a short period of mourning, her father decides that only one woman can be compared to his beautiful late wife - his daughter, and announces that he wants to marry her.  

Don't ask.
Did I mention that the palace has a donkey which shits gold and jewels and coins? Well, it does, but not for long.

Dirty Donkey.
Seriously creeped out by the proposal, the Princess asks her Fairy Godmother for help, who suggests some delaying tactics based on impossible clothing requests, ultimately ending in a request for the skin of the magical wealth defecating donkey. Unbelievably, the King has the Lotto Burro killed in an instant and the Princess, realising that he's not going to give up, legs it as quickly as she can, using the bloody pelt as a disguise.

It certainly is.
There is no empirical evidence to support this statement.
A dress like the Moon.
Dead dirty Donkey.

Will you marry me?
The French Prince of Hard Air.
Anyway, I'm getting a little tired of just relaying the narrative in tedious detail so I will just say that there follows a period of isolation and squalor for the Princess, then, after a load of faffing about, she marries a Prince and it all ends happily, even for her dodgy old Dad, who simply marries the Fairy Godmother. Fin.

So what's the film like? Well, weird, as most films based on fairy tales are, especially those that stick closely to the original text and have a bit of a 'Singing Ringing Tree' vibe. The production looks fantastic, with an amazing use of colour and settings, and a few anachronistic flourishes to keep us guessing: the Queen is buried in a plexiglass dome; the King travels by helicopter, that sort of thing. It's all a little stretched out but keeps moving and never feels unnecessarily padded. The main issue I have is that the music is, well, trite, and is used over and over again until you wish you could slam a piano lid down on Legrand's fingers. The soundtrack reaches its nadir with a crappy ditty about baking a cake which basically details the steps in baking a cake. Yes, the arrangement is moderately groovy, but the rest goes beyond banal to a place where an opera about paint drying would be preferable.

Not entirely successful then, but recommended all the same - it's definitely worth seeing, and it has subtitles, so you can always turn the music off.

1 comment:

  1. It's considered as a "classic" ... in France.

    Best bit is when the helicopter arrives. Because it's the end of this stinking pile of donkeyshit.