Earthbound reality carries enchantment, just as swooning fantasy conceals anxiety: To the dreamer, Jacques Demy, it's a matter of believing, and of feeling. "Il était une fois..." The Perrault fable remembered in exquisite widescreen detail and color, with Jean Marais providing the regal La Belle et la Bête link. (Cocteau is quoted as one of "the poets of tomorrow," along with Apollinaire.) The King's throne is a vast stuffed Persian kitty, his treasury is kept strong by a donkey's Midas digestive system—hay in the front, in the back it pays off like a slot-machine from La Baie des Anges. Only Catherine Deneuve is more beautiful than Catherine Deneuve, it stands to reason, the deathbed promise to the Queen can be fulfilled by marrying her lookalike daughter. "We shall conquer this unwholesome passion," declares the elegantly catty Lilac Fairy (Delphine Seyrig), the heroine dashes into the woods cloaked in the carcass of the magical burro plus a couple of dainty smudges. Fanciful incest, transparent illusionism, and Legrand songs, too. ("Amour Amour, je t'aime tant," a leitmotif best picked up by a squawking macaw.) A gown the color of good weather (scuttling clouds and all) for the deadpan Electra, hags spit out frogs while Prince Charming (Jacques Perrin) gets directions from a rose's labial pistil, Demy has just the earnest-daffy-lustrous tone for this storybook reading. Minnelli's Yolanda and the Thief, Walters' Lili, Rosi's More Than a Miracle, a noble lineage. The bal masqué comes complete with feline orchestra, the search for a finger slender enough for the ring in the cake has maidens sticking their hands in vises. "Have fairy-tale princesses all disappeared?" The helicopter descent swiftly reappears in Goodbye Uncle Tom, Harris in Some Call It Loving certainly takes note of the filming. Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet. With Micheline Presle, Fernand Ledoux, Henri Crémieux, and Sacha Pitoëff.
--- Fernando F. Croce