It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Donkey Skin" is told with the simplicity and beauty of a child's fairy tale, but with emotional undertones and a surrealistic style that adults are more likely to appreciate. A child and a parent seeing this movie would experience two different films. It was directed by the French New Wave legend Jacques Demy in 1970 and is based on a 17th-century tale by Charles Perrault; it's one of his original Mother Goose stories, which also include "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty."
In adapting it into a musical, Demy was probably thinking of Jean Cocteau's surrealistic masterpiece "Beauty and the Beast" (1946), and Demy's own famous musicals "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964) and "The Young Girls of Rochefort" (1967). His "Donkey Skin" makes the connection by costarring Jean Marais, who played three roles in "Beauty and the Beast," and Catherine Deneuve, who had the lead in both of the earlier Demy films.
The story involves two neighboring kingdoms. In the land ruled by Jean Marais, the palace servants and even the horses are bright blue, like a medieval tryout for the Blue Man Group. In the land next door, ruled by Fernand Ledoux, everyone is red. Their maps must look like the Bush-Kerry election.
Sorrow in the blue kingdom. The queen (Deneuve) is dying. On her deathbed she orders the king: "Promise me you'll marry only when you find a wife more beautiful than me." This is not easily done. A search begins for such a woman, but as the king examines the portraits of the candidates, each is more ugly than the one before. Finally his advisors decide only one women qualifies: The king's own daughter, who is also played by Deneuve and therefore bears a striking resemblance to her mother.