Donkey Skin – The Criterion Collection #718 (as part of “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray + DVD Box Set) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 9, 2014 by Dennis Amith
“Donkey Skin” is a fascinating film based on a Charles Perrault fairy tale. While the film was created for children, there are a lot of symbolism that Jacques Demy had left for viewers which are open to interpretation and makes the film even more fun to watch again and again. A fun 1970 French musical which was somewhat a sign of the times, Jacques Demy’s “Donkey Skin” is an enjoyable film that I was thrilled to see included in the Criterion Collection’s “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD box set.
Image courtesy of © 2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Donkey Skin – The Criterion Collection #718 (as part of “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray + DVD Box Set)
YEAR OF FILM: 1970
DURATION: 90 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:35:1 aspect ratio, Color, French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with English Subtitles
COMPANY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: July 22, 2014
Written and Directed by Jacques Demy
Based on the Fairy Tale by Charles Perrault
Produced by Mag Bodard
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet
Edited by Anne-Marie Cotret
Art Direction by Jacques Dugied
Costume Design by Gitt Magrini
Catherine Deneuve as a Princesse/Peau d’ane
Jean Marais as Le roi bleu
Jacques Perrin as Le prince charmant
Micheline Presle as La reine rouge, la seconde reine
Delphine Seyrig as La fee des Lilas
Fernand Ledoux as Le roi rouge, le second roi
Henri Cremleux as Le chef des medecins
Sacha Pitoeff as Le premiere Ministre
Pierre Repp as Thibaud
In this lovingly crafted, wildly eccentric adaptation of a classic French fairy tale, Jacques Demy casts Catherine Deneuve as a princess who must go into hiding as a scullery maid in order to fend off an unwanted marriage proposal—from her own father, the king (Jean Marais). A topsy-turvy riches-to-rags fable with songs by Michel Legrand, Donkey Skin creates a tactile fantasy world that’s perched on the border between the earnest and the satiric, and features Delphine Seyrig in a delicious supporting role as a fashionable fairy godmother.
As Jacques Demy has achieved success with his musicals “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort”, the filmmaker went on to create his first English-language film in 1969 titled “Model Shop” (which reprised the role of Lola starring Anouk Aimee).
But as the ’70s began, Demy has always wanted to create a children’s film and inspired by the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, Demy wanted to adapt “Peau d’ Ane” (Donkey Skin). The film would become a major success and now will be included in the Criterion Collection’s “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD box set which will include “Lola” (1961), “Bay of Angels” (1963), “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964), “The Young Girls of Rochefort” (1967), “Donkey Skin” (1970) and “Une Chambre En Ville” (1982).
The film would feature another collaboration with actress Catherine Deneuve (“Belle de Jour”, “Repulsion”, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, “The Young Girls of Rochefort”) and composer Michel Legrand. And would star Jean Marais (“Beauty and the Beast”, “Orpheus”, “Fantomas”), Jacques Perrin (“Cinema Paradiso”, “Z”, “The Chorus”), Micheline Presle (“A Chef in Love”, “Devil in the Flesh”) and Delphone Seyrig (“Last Year at Marienbad”, “The Discreet charm of the Bourgeoisie”).
“Donkey Skin” begins with an introduction of the Blue King (portrayed by Jean Marais) who is in love with his wife, the First Queen. Both are deeply in love with each other and have a teenage daughter, a princess (portrayed by Catherine Deneuve).
As the King is able to gain his wealth through his magical donkey (which excretes jewels, the source of his kingdom’s wealth), as there are good times in the kingdom, there are also bad times and the Queen is sick and dying. Her final dying wish for her husband is to marry a woman as beautiful and virtuous as she.
But the King doesn’t feel a beautiful woman exists and as his advisers pressure him to have a wife in order to have an heir, the King decides to look at paintings of various women in the kingdom that can be his wife, but none are beautiful and he intends to keep his dying wife’s wish.
So, his advisers recommend one young woman and that is his daughter, the princess.
Scared that she would have to be the wife and in an incestuous relationship with her father, she goes to her godmother, the Lilac Fairy (portrayed by Delphine Seyrig) and she asks her to demand gifts that must be given to her in order to agree to marriage, but gifts that would make the king easily reject plans of marriage. But the King manages to provide her with dresses of the color of the weather, moon and sun.
In desperation, the Lilac Fairy tells the Princess to ask him for the skin of his magical donkey. Not happy with her requests, the King knows he wants a wife and so, he has his magical donkey killed and the skin given to the Princess.
And while he is gone, the Princess puts on the skin of the donkey and runs off to live in a pig farm in a neighboring kingdom using the guise of “Donkey Skin”.
Meanwhile, the Prince of that kingdom spies on her and begins to fall in love with her. But deeply in love, he is ill in bed and wishes for a cake baked by Donkey Skin to help restore him to health.
Will Donkey Skin be able to restore the Prince’s health and win his love and affection or will the Princess have to marry her father?
“Donkey Skin” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:67:1 aspect ratio).
The film looks absolutely gorgeous in HD. The Blu-ray features beautiful colors, good amount of grain throughout the film and no signs of any scratches, discoloration or any problems with picture quality.
According to the Criterion Collection, “Approved by Mathieu Demy, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative at Digimage-Classics in Paris, where the film was then restored in 2K. This 2013 restoration was undertaken by Cine-Tamaris, with the participation of Van Cleef & Arpels and the Domaine Natoinal de Chambord, and the support of the Centre national du cinema et de l’image animee and mySkreen.com.”
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for audio, “Donkey Skin” is presented in French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The soundtrack for this film is primarily dialogue and musical driven. No sign of hiss, crackle or any problematic issues with the audio.
According to the Criterion Collection, “The 5.1 soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the restored stereo mix.”
“Donkey Skin – The Criterion Collection #718” comes with the following special features:
- Pour Le Cinema – (11:45) Director Jacques Demy, Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais and Jacques Perrin interviewed on the set of an episode of “Pour le Cinema”.
- “Donkey Skin” Illustrated – (10:56) Short program from 2008 featuring images from several illustrated editions of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale “Peau d’ane”.
- “Donkey Skin” and the Thinkers– (16:43) A 2008 discussion between film critic Camille Taboulay and psychoanalysts Luycille Durmeyer and Jean-Claude Polack, and 17th Century literature specialist Liliane Picciola about “Donkey skin”.
- Jacques Demy at the American Film Institute – (42:05) Featuring four audio recordings from 1971 by filmmaker Jacques Demy at the American Film Institute.
“Donkey Skin” is a fascinating film because it is Demy’s foret in to creating films for families, films that children can enjoy. But also accomplishing his goal of adapting a Charles Perrault fairy tale for the big screen.
Once again, Catherine Deneuve is absolutely ravishing as the princess, but also interesting to see her don the donkey skin and seen as the outcast of the kingdom.
But what I found really fascinating is the storyline about a princess’ refusal to take part in an incestuous relationship.
While stories of incestuous relationships were common from Greek mythology (Zeus and Hera) and royal intermarriage have been well-documented, it was interesting to watch a film and see the princess doing all she can to get out of it.
Of course, the film has the feel of “Cinderella” but I loved the fairy tale touch when it came to set design and costume design as well. From the servants of the Blue Kingdom painted in blue, or the Red Kingdom as servants are painted in red, along with their horses. But also to see interesting symbolism displayed in the film in which a dream sequence of the Prince has a song about partaking in something naughty, while in the background, you see a statue of a devil. There are moments of fascinating symbolism, so I found that very interesting to see throughout the film.
While the music of Michel Legrand is good, it’s not as strong as the music in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” or “The Young Girls of Rochefort” but Catherine Deneuve manages to make these songs which could have been forgettable to be much more interesting, playful and fun.
As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality of “Donkey Skin” looks fantastic on Blu-ray. Colors are natural, no sign of aging and for the most part, loss audio also features crystal clear dialogue and music. And you also get a good number of special features including an examination by psychoanalysts of the film and more.
Overall, “Donkey Skin” is a fascinating film based on a Charles Perrault fairy tale. While the film was created for children, there are a lot of symbolism that Jacques Demy had left for viewers which are open to interpretation and makes the film even more fun to watch again and again. A fun 1970 French musical which was somewhat a sign of the times, Jacques Demy’s “Donkey Skin” is an enjoyable film that I was thrilled to see included in the Criterion Collection’s “The Essential Jacques Demy” Blu-ray and DVD box set.
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