by Pierre Etaix

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Review

Inspired by the silent, slap-stick comedy of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, Pierre Étaix (rhymes with “apex”) produced a series of short and feature-length films between 1962 and 1971 that are completely unique and utterly charming.  A series of complex rights difficulties kept his films from being shown on television or released on home video until an agreement was reached in 2010 that allowed them to be restored, screened at international film festivals, and finally released on DVD this year by the Criterion Collection. 

Étaix was born in France in 1928 and trained as a circus performer and visual artist before moving to Paris in the mid-1950s and serving as an assistant to filmmaker Jacques Tati, whose modernist, nearly wordless comedy masterworks would make a great impression on him.  During this period, Étaix also met Robert Bresson, who cast him in a small part in his 1959 film Pickpocket.  Jean-Claude Carrièr, Étaix’s co-writer and collaborator, would later go on to write a series of screenplays for Luis Buñuel -- including The Discrete Charm of the Bourgoisie (1972).

Serving as writer, director, and star on most of his films, Etaix seamlessly blended his high art influences with his love of physical and gag oriented comedy.  In The Suitor (1962), Etaix plays an awkward young man who, at the behest of his parents, turns his attention from amateur astronomy to the pursuit of a wife.  After a number of disastrous dates, he falls madly in love with the mass produced image of a TV chanteuse.  The Suitor combines two themes – a satirical critique of mass culture and consumerist society and a meditation on the seductive/destructive pull of the erotic imagination – that will reappear in various combinations throughout Étaix's work.  Also excellent are Yoyo (1965) – the epic story of a circus clown’s rise to wealth and stardom in the film industry and his resulting estrangement from his family and his past – and Le Grande Amour (1969) – a lightly surrealist fable about a bored factory owner whose imagination is set aflame by the arrival of a beautiful young secretary.

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