Donkey Skin (1971)

Genres - Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Costume Adventure, Fairy Tales & Legends, Fantasy Comedy  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - France   |   MPAA Rating - G
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Review by Craig Butler

Donkey Skin is a strange but utterly captivating little fantasy, and one that, despite its fairy tale origins, is really aimed more at adults than at children. Jacques Demy has directed with an eye toward whimsy, but whimsy mixed both with magic and subtle disorientation. Despite the simply beautiful trappings affixed to the film, there's a gentle sense of unease that simmers along beneath the surface, adding the slightest pungent aftertaste to an otherwise yummy confection. Demy achieves this by treating his fairy tale source straight, taking the narrative at face value and therefore not attempting to explain away some of the more bizarre elements. Foremost among these is the plot point that sets everything in motion -- the King's desire to marry his daughter and her inability to see for herself that this is wrong. This alone will make the film difficult for many viewers (even after the Princess escapes before the wedding). Also problematic is the climax of the film, which is simply too familiar after dozens of re-tellings of the Cinderella story, the slight reversal of the maidens coming to the Prince rather than vice-versa notwithstanding. And Michel Legrand's score, most of which is both vapid and annoyingly out-of-period, is also a detriment. Most viewers won't let such things bother them too much, however -- not when they can delight in Demy's glorious visuals (perfectly realized by art directors Jacques Dugied and Jim Leom), and in the performances of the ravishing Catherine Deneuve, the winsome Delphine Seyrig, the appealing Jacques Perrin, and the commanding Jean Marais.