Donkey Skin, 1970
This is one of those rare cases where I love something SO MUCH that I have a hard time articulating and I just want a box of DVDs to throw at people so they can watch it for themselves.
This is ALSO one of those even rarer cases where I love something SO MUCH that I’m not sure I’ll survive if other people don’t love it, too, so if you SECRETLY HATE DONKEY SKIN, don’t tell me omg.
It’s a French musical based on one of the fairy stories popularized by Charles Perrault, about a happily married king and queen who have one child—a beautiful princess, naturally—but then the queen dies and on her deathbed she makes the king promise that he’ll only remarry if he can find a woman more beautiful that herself.
He searches high and low, but ultimately it turns out that there is only one woman in the world more beautiful than his dead queen… HIS DAUGHTER.
Soooooooo, that’s the set-up.
The movie is weird and dreamlike—the score is a big part of that, but also the sets, OH MY GOD, and the costumes and the human statuary and the colors and the use of slo-mo and other special effects and the FAIRY GODMOTHER and the anachronisms and and and—and, despite the skin-crawling premise, watching it feels like that dream state that can come out of taking a long warm bath or having an endlessly cozy day inside when it’s blustery outside, kind of?
It’s funny, too, and the songs are GREAT—my favorite is the cake baking song, in which Catherine Deneuve sings a duet WITH HERSELF in her two personas while she, you know, bakes a cake—and the various tunes keep getting stuck in my head, so it would be super if some of you could watch this because I would feel a lot less alone if I knew that there were other people out there wandering around humming …amour, amour, m'a rendu fou… to themselves.
The first time I watched it, I watched it alone during a day off, and it BLEW. MY. MIND.
(It blew my mind for all of the reasons stated above, but also because Jean Marais, who plays the king, also played Beast in a version of Beauty in the Beast I watched recently, and that one ALSO makes use of human statuary—actors painted to look like statues, I mean—and so now I want to have a double feature where I watch them together to see what other similarities there are, because I would be Very Surprised if there weren’t a bunch more parallels. But I digress.)
(Then, over the next two days, I watched two more Jacques Demy movies—The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort—and they ALSO blew my mind, to the point where I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to shell out for this box set because I want all of these movies available to me now and forever, and I might have to sleep with them under my pillow, even, because I love love love love LOVE them so much it feels like my heart might burst out of my chest. But, oh look, I continue to digress.)
The second time I watched it, I watched it with Josh, and within fifteen minutes, he turned to me and said something along the lines of, “Is this really happening? What I’m seeing? On our television? Because I feel like maybe I fell asleep and I’m dreaming this???” and that was such a relief because it was EXACTLY how I felt the first time and, in truth, the second time, and probably will be how I feel with every single viewing going forward, and you’d better believe that there will be a lot more viewings going forward.
As far as I can tell, it’s currently only available to stream via the Criterion Channel, which if you’re a movie person, is well worth a look—I’ve had it since it launched in April and I have watched a MILLION ZILLION movies and it is AWESOME and I don’t know how I lived this long without it in my life.
(Which, to be fair, is also how I feel about Donkey Skin.)