‘Peau D’Ane’ – The most fabulous French fairytale of all
What do you get when you cross a beautiful French Princess, a confused, desperate father, a magical land full of strange, mystical characters and a donkey whose droppings are made of gold? The enchantingly delightful ‘Peau D’Ane’.
I have a confession to make. Even in my supposed adulthood, I am seriously obsessed with fairytales. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but the combination of technicolour, song, long flowing princess hair and elaborate, bedazzled gowns just have a way of luring me in. Every. Single. Time.
But if I had to choose my favourite, ‘Peau D’Ane’ (otherwise known by its English title ‘Donkey Skin’) would have to be it.
Based on a French literary fairytale by Charles Perrault, it is so deliciously bizarre, enchanting and dreamy that you come out wondering a) what on earth just happened, b) who thought up such a wildly inappropriate yet captivating storyline, and c) where can I get a massively beautiful princess dress the colour of the sky?
A French family affair
There once was a King (Jean Marais) who had a very beautiful wife, (Micheline Presle) an extremely lovely daughter (Catherine Deneuve) and a marvellously talented donkey whose droppings were of gold. (Oh yes, gold.)
They lived in a castle and life was wonderful until the Queen becomes ill, forcing the King to promise, after she dies, only to re-marry if it is to someone more beautiful than she. The King agrees, and it is soon decided that he must seek out another wife.
After reviewing the possible candidates, the King (Marais) comes to the ‘pragmatic’ conclusion that the only person who is as, if not more beautiful than, his former wife, is actually his own daughter, the Princess. Yes, he shall marry his daughter. (Here would be where the morality of this ‘fairytale’ could indeed be questioned…)
What French folly is this?
Horrified, the Princess flees to her scantily-clad Godmother (Delphine Seyrig) who convinces the Princess she must make irrational demands of her father before consenting to marry him. The Princess concedes, demanding: a dress the colour of the sky, a dress the colour of the moon, a dress as bright as the sun and, after her father lovingly grants all her wishes; the hide of the King’s talented donkey.
(I must pause to inform you that for all fairytale lovers, you simply must watch this film, if only for the sheer joy of seeing French beauty Catherine Deneuve look beyond enchanting in three of the most dazzling, jewel-encrusted, magical gowns I have ever seen! Sigh…)
The Princess flees to the woods in the disguise of the ‘Donkey Skin’ and is put to work as a farmer. A handsome French Prince (Jacques Perrin) hears her singing and, peering through the window of her cabin, falls hopelessly in love with the Princess. He then becomes ‘lovesick’, claiming the only way he will eat is if ‘Donkey Skin’ bakes him a cake.
A simple French recipe: Amour!
‘Donkey Skin’ bakes the Prince a magical cake, and upon eating it, he discovers a golden ring. It is decided that every maiden in the land is to be summoned; whoever fits the ring, the Prince will marry.
To the Prince’s avail the ring fits no-one, and it is only when the last contender, ‘Donkey Skin’ is called to try it on, that the ring fits perfectly. The hideous disguise falls away, and the beautiful French Princess is revealed, wearing of course, a dazzling dress as bright as the sun!
‘Peau D’Ane‘: cinematic magic, completely bizarre or both?
1. Peau d’Ane, Nouvelle Vague and Beyond on Tumblr
2. Peau d’Ane – Jacques Demy, on Lo à Paris
3. Le gateau de Peau d’Ane, on Momes.net
4. Peau d’Ane, Emmanuelle Alt’s top 15 French films on Vogue.fr