DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Pierre Etaix Films, Blu-ray (1961-71/2013)

Five witty features and three shorts from an almost forgotten filmmaker known as "The French Keaton."

Published on May 5, 2013

      Pierre Etaix Films, Blu-ray (1961-71/2013)
5 Features & 3 shorts: The Suitor (1963, color); As Long As You’ve Got Your Health (1966); Le Grand Amour (1969); Land of Milk and Honey (1971); Yoyo (1965); Rupture (1961); Happy Anniversary (1962); Feeling Good (1966)
Director: Pierre Etaix
Actors: Pierre Etaix, others
Studio: Studio 37/Carlotta/The Criterion Collection 655 [4/23/13] (2 discs)
Video: 1.77:1 and 4:3; 16:8 & full screen, B&W; one in color
Audio: French PCM mono
Subtitles: English (new), French
Extras: Recent restorations, video introductions to some of the films by Etaix, “Pierre Etaix, un destin anime” – 2011 portrait of the director’s life and work by his wife; Printed illustrated booklet with essay by critic David Cairns
Length: 413 minutes total
Rating: ****½

Etaix is a French physical comedy master who films were nearly forgotten due to various legal tangles and other problems. Now they have been resurrected due to the restoration work of three different organizations. His work is in the area of Jacques Tati (who he assisted on the production of Mon Uncle, even designing the relatives’ modern house) and Jerry Lewis (of whom he is a good friend). His experiences as an acrobat and circus clown and his adoration of the silent film masters such as Chaplin and Keaton color his work, which is not particularly original, but which is often hilarious. In fact, after the poor reception of his Land of Milk and Honey (in which he doesn’t appear), he returned to circus clowning. He is also a graphic artist, who did the posters for some of the Tati films.

Most of his films were collaborations with top screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, who among other films did The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie for Bunuel. Etaix displays a warmth and good feeling about his deadpan bits, more so than Keaton. He often plays a debonair young man who has serious difficulties with everything around him, be it his writing instruments, his stove, his car, you name it. Various circus routines find their say into his comedies, and he loves to exaggerate the sound effects for effect.

Etaix’s personal favorite, and I think also mine, is his film Yoyo, which is a delightful tribute to the circus world. It concerns a circus couple who travel around Europe performing in villages, hauling a gypsy wagon behind their classic car, after the father loses his wealth in the Depression.  They have a son name Yoyo who goes on to be a fantastically successful clown and attempts to restore his father’s former estate, but finally gives up and goes back to the circus on an elephant. It’s full of clever references to other films and characters.

In Le Grand Amour is an extended witty scene in which he has lost interest in his wife due to a sexy young secretary in his office. He dreams his bed leaves his bedroom and goes off down the road, meeting many other traveling beds in the countryside, and picking up the secretary in a short nightie, journeying on with her in the bed with him. Some of the beds they pass are stopped to be repaired, or have had accidents. Like Bunuel, surrealism is part of his approach, but in an entirely different way. His gentle humor comments on the faults of modern society in the best way.  The bonus features are all most worthwhile; one really gets to know Etaix (who is still living).

—John Sunier




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