Our last two MFTS meetings have centred around Jacques Demy’s 1970s French film Peau d’Âne (Donkey Skin in English) – an adaptation of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale of the same name.
In Perrault’s tale, a young woman flees her kingdom because her father insists on marrying her. (Earlier versions of the tale include Giovan Francesco Straparola’s “Doralice” and Giambattista Basile’s “The She-Bear.”) Given the taboo incest theme, it’s unsurprising that the tale has rarely been adapted for film and television, making Demy’s film quite unique.
The first meeting we had was a viewing of the film, complete with popcorn, snacks and giggling. Indeed, the film involves blue little men reminiscent of oompa loompas, a king who sits on a giant stuffed cat instead of a throne, and a time-travelling fairy who flies a helicopter!
Oh yes, you read that second one correctly, and I have proof:
At the second meeting we sat down, minus the giggling, to analyse the film in the context of an academic book chapter by Anne E. Duggan:
Duggan’s main argument is that Demy intentionally ‘camps’ Perrault’s fairy tale. Here Duggan is using Jack Babuscio’s notion of camp “(1) as subversive of heteronormative sexuality, (2) as aesthetic incongruity, and (3) as theatricality or self-as-spectacle” (Duggan, 47).
Looking at the first element, Duggan argues that Demy uses the theme of incest to destabalise normative sexualities. As a group, we found this problematic, given that it associates homosexual desire with incest, though Duggan does acknowledge this as an issue.
Duggan relates the second element to the mixing of high and low class, the clashing colours and images, and temporal inconsistencies in the film (think time travelling fairy godmother).
As to the third element, Duggan contends that Demy makes his characters into objects of “marvel and admiration who display themselves as works of art” (Duggan, 61).
Overall, though we agreed with many of Duggan’s points, we were a little hesitant to accept all arguments in the chapter, especially the idea that all of this was intentional on Demy’s side, rather than one reading of his film. Then again, this is hard to assess with our limited knowledge of Demy’s films. I do recommend reading the article, and I definitely encourage you to give the film a watch!
Before I sign off, I shall leave you with this clip from the movie in which the heroine sings while baking a cake for her future husband. I sing something quite similar when I bake… Enjoy!