Monday, 8 November 2010

Charles Perrault The Godfather of European Fairy Tales

Charles Perrault Petit Poucet
Tom Thumb (Le Petit poucet)
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) presents Charles Perrault: The Godfather of European Fairy Tales a cinema program that explores four of Charles Perrault's most celebrated fairy tales thrugh the eyes of three significant French film directors: Jacques Demy, Olivier Dahan and Catherine Breillat.

Charles Perrault, born in Paris in 1628, is considered the founder of the fairytale genre, bringing together disparate oral traditions and publishing these stories in his landmark book, Stories or Tales of Past Times, with Morals in 1697. Perrault's most famous stories are still in print today and have been made into operas, ballets, plays, musicals, and films, both live-action and animation.

Both delighting and terrifying readers of all ages, many of the themes included in these films suit older audiences and all are in the original French language with English subtitles.

In Jacques Demy's Donkey Skin (Peau d'ane) the luminous Catherine Deneuve is perfectly cast as The Princess who must flee from her father The King (Jean Marais) when he sets his sights on making her his new Queen, and wife. Her fairy godmother suggests she make several sartorial demands on her father, ultimately turning the skin of The King's prized money-making donkey into a disguise so that she can escape and eventually, meet her Prince Charming.

Perrault's transcription of this popular story had fascinated director Demy since childhood. He enlisted Michel Legrand to create the music and had the pick of the French acting fraternity, casting not only Deneuve and Marais, but also Jacques Perrin, Micheline Presle, and Delphine Seyrig.

Not to be confused with the English folk tale, this Tom Thumb (Le Petit Pucet) or Hop-o'-My-Thumb is from a collection of stories published by Perrault which includes Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. With lavish production values, director Olivier Dahan (La Vie en rose) sticks close to the old tale of a shy little peasant boy who outsmarts ravenous wolves and a man-eating ogre, managing to steal his magic boots and live happily ever after.

Thirty years after Donkey Skin, Catherine Deneuve returns to the land of fairytales to this time play the Queen and is joined by a terrifying Sami Naceri (as the Iron-legged soldier), Romaine Bohringer and Elodie Bouchez.

With Bluebeard (La Barbe bleu) director Catherine Breillat continues her bracing explorations of female myhtologies with this unique adaptation. At the heart of Perrault's story is the tale of an ogre who has a habit of "bumping off" his wives, until he meets his match with his last wife, Marie-Catherine. Breillat, ever the individual, frames this within another story set in more contemporary times, where two young sisters read the gory tale of the child bride, demonstrating the eternal themes of this Prince Charming-free cautionary tale where marriage is not a happy end but a point of departure.

Breillat directly follows Bluebeard with yet another Perrault fairytale adaptation, The Sleeping Beauty (La Belle endormie) which makes its Australian premiere at ACMI.  In the Perrault version extreme violence follows after the Prince and the Princess are united and she has awoken from her sleep and they have had two children. After this the Prince leaves for war leaving his wife in the care of his mother - who hates children and practices cannibalism. Later in the piece the Prince's mother is about to throw the two children into a pit of venomous vipers, but the Prince fortuitously returns from war just in time to push his mother into the pit saving his children. Taking the basics of the Perrault tale, Breillat fashions an equally dreamlike rendition with requisite dwarfs, royal personages and somewhat scatterbrained fairies, turning the story into a coming of age fantasy.

ACMI Film Programmer James Nolen says "Whilst Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm steal much of the fairytale limelight, there is another guardian of fairytales whose stories, such as Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb, are just as celebrated. Through these screenings we hope to highlight the important role Charles Perrault played in formalising the fairytale genre and reconnect these classic stories to their European origins."

Charles Perrault: The Godfather of European Fairy Tales is a weekly Sunday matinee season from 2 January to 24 April 2011.

Further information

Samatha Chater
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2475 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 655
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