GREGOR CAMERON reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: enchantment.

WHAT A TREAT these Demy films have been! Peau d’Ane is Jacques Demy’s ode to the fairy tale and its place in the art of storytelling. Not for him is the sugar coated Disney pleasure factory and while his heroine is pretty (Catherine Deneuve), she is far from an innocent bystander in this adaptation of Charles Perrault’s original Donkey Skin – a variation of the Cinderella type of fairy tale. Demy never allows us to forget that, in this world of fabulous costumes and castles, we are in fact only following a story being used to illustrate some wider point. With its engagement with possible incest between father and daughter and that daughter’s choice to take charge of her fate there is a clear indication that Demy may be suggesting, through Perrault’s story, that becoming a victim can sometimes be a choice and perhaps those exposed to this story should take the point that we are all somehow culpable for our own fates. Clearly there are similarities in the way Demy intends this story to comment on the present age that Perrault’s Bluebeard story has been used in film – most notably in local times during the shadow puppets segment in Campion’s The Piano (1993).

Here though Demy through the use of a future seeing fairy, a parrot who comments on the façade of true love and the late appearance of a helicopter in this fairytale Europe clearly wants us to try to see through to what the story represents rather than just passively receiving a colourful mélange (blues and reds) that could all too easily be either The Wizard of Oz (1939) or Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) – a film that may, in fact, owe something to Demy’s aesthetics.

Overall, this film, like the other films, has something for everyone – the touchstone of the well-constructed story. Demy’s easy camera and wistful use of Michel Legrand’s compositions belie the wonderful depth of his engagement with his materials. In this series that the film societies have been showing images that clearly owe so much to the French New Wave slip seamlessly past, tied to the music and song that Demy uses to at once engage and alienate us from the action, offering us so many other opportunities for interpretation. This, for me, has been a discovery, at once delicious and at the same time challenging – I love it.