Saturday, December 1, 2007

Fairy stories classic and modern (Film - Peau d'ane)

I can't remember if I saw Peau d'ane (Donkey's Skin) when I was a child, but I don't think so. This 1970 film adaptation of the classic French fairy tale, directed by Jacques Demy and starring Catherine Deneuve and Jean Marais is utter magic. It is a musical as well as a fairy story, but forget your visions of Disney, like most real fairy tales, this one trods in forbidden territory - incest - but in such a way that it can still be appreciated by child and adult alike. It is witty in ways only adults can appreciate but will delight a child too (and if you don't believe me, watch the extra feature on the DVD with the French school children). It has an innocent child-like vision - with a red and a blue kingdom, living caryatids, a wonderful character that's half fairy-godmother and half Jean Harlow (which is what Demy wanted) and the beautiful princess wears the donkey's skin on her back rather than to completely conceal herself so you have this marvelous duality of beauty and beast. There also a great anachronistic choice at the end which I won't spoil as I found it a stroke of genius. I also loved pretty much all the extra features, an excerpt from Agnes Varda's film about Demy which I don't know but would like to see, and a discussion between three psychoanalysts and Demy's biographer which is just so typical of the seriousness with which the French treat their culture. I love watching French television when I'm in Europe because I can hear one discussion after another, like the one in this feature, about why stories, film, theater, music matter - really matter - why they are not only entertaining but how they help us understand ourselves, and what value that has. In any event, I was charmed by this lovely film and if you're not familiar with it, curl up with a glass a red wine one night and watch it.

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