Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

Demy’s “Donkey Skin”: Deneuve Undercover

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New York Film Festival ends this weekend with a segue into the giant Jean-Luc Godard retrospective and… too much stuff to see in New York, including MoMA’s always fascinating “To Save and Project” and an ongoing Jacques Demy retro, through October 17.

Demy’s movies and especially his musicals are all pretty much sui generis but not is more so than “Donkey Skin” (showing Sunday, October 13, and Monday, October 14). The late filmmaker’s gently demented and thoroughly comic adaptation of the Charles Perrault verse fairytale may be the sunniest story ever to be predicated on father-daughter incest or, if one reads between the lines, sexual abuse.

Distraught over the death of his beautiful wife (Catherine Deneuve), the Blue King (Jean Marais) takes it into his head to marry his beautiful daughter (also Catherine Deneuve). She’s not exactly thrilled and helped by her gracious fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig), escapes into the forest under the cover of a smelly old donkey hide (hence the title). There’s a prince, son of the Red King and Queen, and a score by Michel Legrand (his third for Demy after “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefor”t), which is periodically parroted by a parrot.

The hyper-designed sets suggest a Cocteau-hour Disneyland (or maybe Demy checked out the Madonna Inn when he shot his previous film “The Model Shop” in Los Angeles). The tone is not exactly parodic but with a king perched on a teddy-bear throne, a donkey that shits costume jewelry, a rose that talks, and a hag who spits out toads, “Donkey Skin” is hardly straight-faced. Like Demy’s other movies it’s one of a kind, at once monstrously Oedipal and charmingly infantile; Deneuve managed to be both hilarious and touching in her donkey drag.

“Donkey Skin” may not as totally wacky as Demy’s follow-up fairytale, “The Pied Piper”—which features a properly fey Donovan in the title role and which you can, if you hurry, catch tonight at Film Forum–but it will more than do.

Images: Film Forum

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