You have to be able to give yourself to a movie without really understanding it, to appreciate the beautiful qualities of Jacques Demy's PEAU D'ANE. So much of the story doesn't make any sense to American viewers. Why, for example, does the Prince sham illness in order to get "Donkey Skin" to bake him a cake? He knows who she is, why doesn't he just go for it. Why go through the rigmarole of getting every woman in the kingdom to try on the ring? How does he know that only Catherine Deneuve would be able to wear the ring? What if he got someone else instead? (We see a cute reaction shot when a very young princess, maybe 4 or 5 years old, tries on the ring and it's way too big for her.)
Growing up in France, commercial TV played this movie every Christmas, just the way that here in the USA they were showing "It's a Wonderful Life." For us American children trapped in Paris at Christmastime, there was one great treat, a showing of "Peau D'Ane" every year to look forward to (this was in the days before DVDS and even VHS.) You'll see the special cake that Catherine Deneuve makes with her dirty twin, and you'll wonder why she makes such a flat cake for the prince--it's a visual reminder of our special Christmas cake, the "galette," round and flat, into which a shoe, a baby or other toy has been inserted. We would have a "buche de Noel" every year, always a cause for general applause. (The Princess slips a golden ring into the cake, and Prince Charming nearly chokes to death on it!) In many ways Demy puts in references to our charming French Christmas traditions. We would stay up late and have a midnight dinner the French servants called, the "Reveillon," an enormous feast with chickens, geese, sausage and sometimes quail. You'd think everyone would be fat, but even Santa Claus, or as we call him, Pere Noel, although dressed in red like Prince Charming (Jacques Perrin) in tbis film, is always portrayed as thin, nearly emaciated: compare him to the enormously fat jolly man American kids call "Santa Claus."
By the way, we put out shoes by the fireplace, whereas you American children hang up stockings at the mantelpiece! Then when we open our gifts, we settle in for the annual treat of seeing Jacques Demy's masterpiece, "Peau D'Ane." Now an adult, I can see that Delphine Seyrig and Micheline Presle were still quite attractive in 1970, though to a child they seem quite elderly compared to how young Deneuve looks. We had gotten used to seeing Deneuve and Jacques Perrin together in Demy's previous film, LES DEMOISELLES DU ROCHEFORT, but here they share even more charisma and sex appeal. Their number together doing backwards somersaults and then gliding down a placid river on a painted barge, torches burning bright in daylight, is one of the best in the film.