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Koch Lorber presents
Donkey Skin (1970)

"However, the vicissitudes of life fall also on kings, and the greatest good is always mixed with evil."
- narrator (Jean Servais)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: May 09, 2005

Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, Jacques Perrin, Delphine Seyrig
Other Stars: Micheline Presle, Fernand Ledoux
Director: Jacques Demy

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:29m:28s
Release Date: May 10, 2005
UPC: 741952304791
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+A- A-

DVD Review

Jacques Demy was one of the foremost French directors of musicals. With The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), he had his first major international hit. Its follow-up, The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), was less successful, particularly in America, but it remains well-loved by many, including myself. His third musical, Peau d'âne (or Donkey Skin in translation), arrived in 1970, and it has remained generally unknown in North America. Koch Lorber has taken steps to rectify that with this release in their new "Gold Editions" line.

Donkey Skin takes its story from the fairy tale of the same name, as told by 17th-century French writer Charles Perrault. A variant of Cinderella, the tale begins with a king (Jean Marais), who is well-loved and very happy, as he has a beautiful wife (Catherine Deneuve) and a beautiful daughter (Deneuve again), not to mention a literal moneymaker in a donkey that doesn't excrete the usual fertilizer, but instead gold and jewels. The king's fortunes take a turn for the worse when he loses his wife to a sudden illness. Before she dies, he makes the unwise promise to only marry a woman more beautiful than she. When the king's ministers force him to undertake another marriage to produce a male heir, the only woman who surpasses the dead queen in beauty is...his daughter. Being that this is a fairy tale, things work a bit differently, and the usual opposition to incest is brushed over fairly easily. The most amusing bit comes when the king asks his wise man whether the marriage would be wrong, and the wise man responds that all little girls want to marry their father, and that if the wise man had a daughter, he'd want to marry her. So there!

Daughter (she has no given name in the film) isn't totally sure, though. She runs off to visit her godmother, the Lilac Fairy (Delphine Seyrig), who informs her that under no circumstances should she marry her father. She tells the daughter to stall him by asking for a series of increasingly elaborate dresses (the colors of weather, the moon, and then the sun), which he delivers accordingly. Finally, they must play their final card: the daughter asks for the skin of the prize donkey. "My banker?" exclaims the king. But he consents, and following this ultimate show of love, the Lilac Fairy tells daughter to flee, wearing the donkey skin as a disguise.

She hides out in a neighboring kingdom, disguised as Donkey Skin the pig feeder, where she catches the eye of the prince (Jacques Perrin). From there, it's a matter of time until the happy ending we all know is coming arrives. If one wants to find fault, it could be argued that there is no real suspense to any of the goings-on here, as we know in a general sense exactly how things are going to play out. The pleasure, however, is in getting there, and there is much to admire in here.

To begin with, the film features rich art direction; take the two royal courts. The king's court is decorated in a blue-dominated color scheme, with palace lackeys in blue bodypaint, blue-painted horses, and blue-painted living statues in the castle that move with the action. The Prince's palace is similar, except it has a red color scheme. Costuming is similarly elaborate, with Deneuve being the recipient of some remarkable dresses. Seyrig is outfitted in a silky maze of material befitting a fairy.

The other major element of the film is the music. As with Demy's previous musicals, Michel Legrand composed the score, with Demy writing lyrics, and while the music doesn't reach the heights of Cherbourg or Rochefort, it's still very pleasing. My personal favorite is the marvelous song Recette pour un cake d'amour (Recipe for a Love Cake), in which Denueve performs a duet with herself (you have to see it).

Some may find a couple anachronistic touches offputting (including an outrageous event at the very end), but others will take them in the spirit they were intended, one of sheer fun. Demy wanted to make the film as if he were making it at age 7 or 8, and it shows. A lovely film.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Donkey Skin looks good in this presentation; it has a pleasantly grainy look that indicates its age. Colors are strong, though the details are a touch hazy at times, but I could imagine this being on purpose, given the fantastic nature of the story. The transfer appears to be the same as the one used on the French release, albeit corrected for NTSC, like Koch Lorber's La Dolce vita release.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Three tracks to choose from here: the first is a Dolby 5.1 mix, which I watched the film in and enjoyed. It's certainly the punchiest and most vivid of the three. Next is a Dolby 2.0 track, which sounds fine, as does the mono track included. The 5.1 mix is an upgrade from the 4.0 mix on the French release.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English (2), Spanish (2) with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with producer Mag Bodard
  2. Photo Montage comparing film with parody version
Extras Review: As with the transfer, the extras are ported over from the French two-disc special edition, but Koch Lorber has bundled everything onto one disc. For the most part, these aren't extras that will be revisited often, speaking for myself, but there are interesting things to be seen here. To begin, there is the theatrical trailer (04m:03s), presented in anamorphic widescreen and forced English subtitles. Quality is fine. Following that is a brief interview with producer Mag Bodard (03m:53s), where she describes the film as the favorite of all the projects she worked on in her long career. Next is The Illustrated Peau d'âne, (10m:58s) a look at the various incarnations of the tale through the illustrations that have accompanied it over the centuries. These are arranged to retell the story, with snippets of the movie soundtrack to guide it along. Some of the illustrations are silly, and some are quite beautiful. A nicely conceived piece.

Following that is Peau d'âne and the Thinkers, (16m:54s) a roundtable discussion with two psychoanalysts, a 17th-century literature scholar, and film critic who specializes in Demy. It's fairly interesting, though I didn't really find any of the observations to be of an eye-opening nature. Next is Photo Montage by Claire Bretécher (02m:36s), perhaps the most inexplicable extra here. Presumably a contemporary illustrated parody of the film, this feature presents shots of the film and then a shot of the parody, titled Peau de bique (Goat Skin), for comparison. Given that the parody was done as a comic strip, subtitling the strip was not a realistic solution, so it is left in untranslated French, which makes it less useful to non-Francophones.

Moving on, we have Peau d'âne and the Children, (08m:14s,) which takes a group of schoolkids to a screening of the film, and then has them describe what they saw. Not especially funny or illuminating. Rounding out the film-related extras is the section of Agnes Varda's documentary on Demy, The World of Jacques Demy, dealing with Donkey Skin (08m:27s). It contains new interview material with Deneuve, Perrin, and some crew, and contemporary interview footage with Demy and Marais, not to mention behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the film. This was the only extra that left me wanting more, as it is really the only one dealing with the actual production of the film. For those interested in learning more about Demy's work, the documentary well worth viewing.

All those extras ported over from the French release may leave you wondering if anything was left out, and indeed there was. The most interesting missing extra is a 1908 silent version of the tale, with optional commentary by the children we met in a previous extra. Another is a "dress the princess" feature, which allows the viewer to click on a selected piece of Deneuve's wardrobe in the film and see her in it. Finally, each of the film's songs were viewable in their entirety, with three available as karaoke tracks. I would have glady ditched the bit with the kids for the silent film and karaoke, but that's just me. The extras are wrapped up with Koch Lorber produced promos for several of their titles: La Dolce Vita, The Five Obstructions, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Girl from Paris, 301/302, The Wooden Man's Bride, The Tree of Wooden Clogs, and Sister My Sister. All are fullscreen.

As noted, subtitles are provided in English and Spanish, but interestingly, Koch Lorber has provided two sets of subtitles for each language. One set is presented in yellow, and the other in white. Each set is identical. This is the first time I've seen a company provide a choice of color for the subtitles, but for those who hate either yellow or white, you now have a choice.

And if I may add one last quibble to what is otherwise a fine release, it would be this: given that Donkey Skin is not the best of titles (even though it is a literal translation), why not keep the lovelier sounding original, which would have in turn allowed the use of the beautiful original poster art? The cover for this version is ugly and dull. But don't let it dissuade you from the wonders within!

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A visually lush fairy tale, Donkey Skin has pleasures for both kids and adults alike. The DVD gathers some pleasing extras to go with a solid presentation of the film.


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