Academic journal article Post Script

A Dance in Disguise: Figure Movement and Genre Play in Peau D'Ane

Academic journal article Post Script

A Dance in Disguise: Figure Movement and Genre Play in Peau D'Ane

Article excerpt

French children love Jacques Demy's adaptation of Charles Perrault's fairy tale "Peau d'Ane" ("Donkey Skin"), but the film leaves many adults scratching their heads. Some are put off by the filmmaker's playful treatment of incest, others by his unabashed narrative and stylistic anachronisms. Certain of Demy's contemporaries also criticized his film for lacking an explicitly political message during a time when many French films were politically engaged (Simsolo 76). Demy creates an eclectic aesthetic in Penu d'Ane (1970) by drawing on several cinematic traditions to create the tone of his film, which not only appeals to children, through its playful songs and visual embellishments, but also resonates with many film sophisticates. Peau d'Ane's aesthetic references a wide range of cinematic and artistic traditions, which Demy builds in part through his deliberate staging of figure movement, to evoke fairy-tale as well as musical genre conventions, and to imbue his female protagonist with greater agency.

Peau d'Ane presents an opportunity to analyze the fine line between dance and the stylized, everyday movement (1) that Demy consciously incorporates into his film. With the exception of two scenes that include period dancing--when the villagers perform for the prince and the courtiers perform at a ball--there is little choreographed dance in the film, unlike the director's first dance-infused musical, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). Demy's staging of the musical numbers does not look like dance in a traditional sense, but we can observe clear patterns in how the characters move, emphasizing that Demy was as rigorous in this aspect of his style as he was with other techniques in creating his intricate cinematic worlds.

Demy organizes the movement of his actors--Catherine Deneuve, especially--in several important ways. The musical numbers use functional, unembellished gestures as a primary movement vocabulary. This distances them from the Hollywood musical tradition and Demy's choreographic choices in Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, while evoking Disney animation and an American avant-garde dance aesthetic. In contrast, characters traveling through environments in transitional moments move with a patterned and elaborate use of locomotion (walking or running) that reinforces Demy's stylistic homages to Jean Cocteau and Marcel Carne, drawing attention to the systematic use of in-camera effects to alter the expressivity of figure movement. These stylistic choices distance Demy's film from the Hollywood musical tradition to evoke instead an eclectic stylistic blend of Disney animation, avant-garde art, and 1940s French cinema. Demy uses such choreographic rigor to signal the different diegetic levels that Peau d'Ane creates between the generic traditions of the fairytale and the film musical, as he skillfully blends both to create a hybrid genre film.

Generically, Peau d'Ane differs significantly from Demy's other musicals, such as Les Demoiselles de Rochefort or Trois places pour le 26 (1988), because he builds on expectations from several generic traditions. However, with the exception of Rodney Hill's analysis, which references Peau d'Ane's place in the musical tradition (41), existing scholarship (Berthome, Duggan, Le Gras, Taboulay) does not discuss the film in relation to the musical genre, favoring discussions of its fairy-tale roots instead. The trade press is no different; Variety's review of the film describes it exclusively as a fairy tale (16).

In an earlier article, I propose two ways to tease out the narrative and stylistic qualities of a musical number to better distinguish generic patterns and sub-categories (Oyallon-Koloski 93). Narratively, I consider the function of the number in relation to the larger plot (based on ideas from John Mueller). Stylistically, I examine the ways in which the number shifts the aesthetic norms of the diegesis to move into what Rick Altman has called the supradiegetic (based on ideas from Altman, David Bordwell, and Martin Rubin). …

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