Tuesday 11 February 2020

French Film Festival - Peter Hourigan recalls his first viewing of Jacques Demy's wondrous fairy tale PEAU D'ANE (Jacques Demy, France, 1971), and what followed later.

Once upon a time, it was the European winter of 1971. It was chill on the train to Paris, and the landscape was covered with snow. The sky was dull, so there was no visible horizon, and the French countryside looked ghostly and dead. How warm it was to reach Paris, find somewhere to sleep and then enjoy the bright city lights.
Next day, I started exploring, and of course checking Pariscop for the cinemas.  And, oh wonderful news – Jacques Demy’s new film Peau d’Ane had just opened. What better way to celebrate being in Paris!  

Now, almost half a century later, checking back to my travel diary, I can see my first reaction.
       “…my first film, here: and a real name dropper, too, it should be.  Demy’s “Peau d’Ane”, a lovely fairy tale. It has many delightful bits, some beautiful Legrand songs, all very coy and wholesome.  An old hag who spits frogs, a marvelous scene of all the maidens trying on a ring; a “duet” with Peau d’Ane and herself as she bakes a cake for her prince.  Though, I must admit it doesn’t always work – perhaps a bit of its charm is carried over from Rochefortrather than being re-created.  And, really, why did he suddenly have to have Peau d’Ane’s father and the fairy arrive at her wedding by helicopter? But, I’d still love to see it again.”

Well, I certainly did see it again.  And again.  And again, to the point where I’ve lost count. And I would also stress that I most certainly would not endorse some of those first impressions from all those years ago. Of course, when it was available, I bought the LP of the soundtrack. Then one of those VHS tapes. And at least one CD version. And then a DVD. And a BR copy eventually.

But that wasn’t all. I was bitten by the body-art bug, and rather thought that the poster design would make a wonderful back tattoo. And it happened. There, on my back emerged the complex design, with Catherine Deneuve in her donkey skin cape, the prince in his red costume is mounted on his red horse, stern Jean Marais, her father is there in front of the castle, a collection of birds and flowers, and a fairy are in the image. Thanks to the skilful work of my tattooist. He was good – he didn’t simply slavishly copy the LP cover, but adapted that square shape to the longer dimensions of a back.
Then it was 2013, and the Cinémathèque Française was showing a wonderful exhibition devoted to The Enchanted World of Jacques Demyand I was back in Europe for Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato. I was thrilled with this chance to visit this exhibition. Over the years Demy had grown to become one of my all-time favourite filmmakers.

And perhaps I did get a bit carried away, and had to tell people about my back, And some asked to take photos of my tattoo in front of a large poster for the film with the same image. This drew the attention of some of the staff who also took some photos, and posted them on their website. Which came to the attention of Rosalie Varda.  Somehow word got back to me that she was curious about this.

The next day, rather emboldened and brash, I made my way to 88 rue Daguerre, the offices of Ciné-Tamaris. And shortly after, I was stripping off my shirt to a rather amazed, perhaps a little startled Agnés Varda. She had to document this too, and took several photos. I had the opportunity to stroke one of her beloved cats, which was luxuriating over one of the desks.

She also gave me some memorabilia, a number of postcards and frig magnets from the exhibition, a mug highlighting Lola, and another quoting Peau d’Ane with Les fées ont toujours raison  -  the fairies always know best. She also gave me one of the official street posters for the exhibition, two metres tall.  This was a hassle to bring back to Australia, but some wonderful friends sensing an obsession of mine, had it framed for my 70thbirthday. It's now a feature of a small Demy corner (right) in my kitchen with two other framed collections, one of the Varda cards, and another with four lobby cards from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. 

About a week later, I was in Bologna for that year’s Cinema Ritrovato. Agnés Varda was there to present a new restoration of her first feature, La Pointe Courte.Rosalie, her daughter, was also there and I met her this time, as well as again saying hello to Agnés who signed my souvenir brochure for that screening - still treasured.

Yes, perhaps I have been a bit carried away with Peau d’Ane – but what a magical film to be carried away by.

Peau d'Ane  screens around Australia in the French Film Festival. 

Sydney screenings details click here

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