Circus clown, acrobat, magician, cinema auteur extraordinaire: Pierre Etaix is a singular talent, and the five feature films and three shorts contained in Criterion’s new Pierre Etaix set make that fact crystal clear. A modern day Buster Keaton who can deadpan his way through life’s mine fields with the best clowns in cinema history, these “lost” films are now presented anew to win over countless generations of fans to one of the undiscovered geniuses of movie comedy.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1, 1.33:1
Audio: French 1.0 PCM (Mono)
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 7 Hr. 34 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raycardboard case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/23/2013
The Shorts – Rupture, Happy Anniversary, Feeling Good – 4.5/5
The Production Rating: 4/5
Focusing on a singular comedic aspect pitting the innocent naïf against the world, these three short films are masterworks. Rupture finds our hero attempting to write a break-up letter to his love (who’s just dumped him) only to find the real break up comes in his own apartment as he vainly strives to write the letter. Happy Anniversary (which won an Oscar for Best Short Film) lets the impossibly crowded thoroughfares of Paris do the comedy work for the poor guy vainly trying to get home for an anniversary dinner with his wife. Feeling Good takes an accident-prone camper who is later sent by a park ranger into a concentration camp-like area for using illegal camping techniques. All three films mine comic gold out of mundane situations and everyday events magnified to the absurd degree that makes pantomime comedies such as these sheer joy though Feeling Good is definitely the lesser of the three shorts, a discarded item from As Long As You’ve Got Your Health.
The Suitor – 4.5/5
Implored by his parents to find himself a mate and get married, bookworm Pierre (Pierre Etaix) doesn’t know the first thing about women or how to woo one. He isn’t successful proposing to the family’s Swedish maid (Karin Vesely) because she doesn’t speak French. Excursions into the city to mimic the behavior of other men he sees successfully picking up the opposite sex get him in nothing but trouble, especially when he gets involved with a drunken party girl (Laurence Lignères). He falls for enticing pop singer Stella (France Arnell) not understanding she’s a manufactured image and not an available woman for him. His quest seems to be a completely hopeless one.
Etaix’s extended visual gag sequences rival anything done by the great silent comics Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd (and often without the props or special effects that made their gags so memorable), and his sense of invention especially in the sequence where he attempts to pick up women based on what he sees others doing is priceless. If the ending is a bit weak and thrown away without a satisfactory final moment (you’d never find Chaplin ending one of his features in such an inconclusive way), the rest of the movie is a joy from beginning to end, and Etaix’s innocent alter ego is so endearing and appealing that one wants nothing more than to jump into the screen and help him.
Yoyo – 3.5/5
A wealthy dilettante (Pierre Etaix) from generations of old European money is used to the world coming to him, and apart from a lost love (Claudine Auger) and her son (Philippe Dionnet) who are in a circus, he lacks for nothing. But the crash of 1929 wipes him out, and when he loses everything, the man happily joins the woman and boy (who appears to be his son) in the circus. Time passes and the boy grows into Yoyo the clown (Pierre Etaix), a beloved entertainer who slowly begins to rebuild his family’s fortune until he becomes a huge television star and is able to refurbish the family’s ancestral chateau though his parents refuse to attend its grand reopening; they’re content with the simple life on the road now.
Covering two generations in a family’s life which corresponds to the silent and sound periods in cinema, Etaix cleverly uses the contrast to point up the differences in the generations. The silent movie part of the film is quick and filled with sound gags and other bits of business but is not especially funny, particularly in comparison to the hilarious films which are contained on the same disc one of this set. The film builds its comic momentum as it plays and is much more amusing in the second half. However, there’s still a bittersweet melancholy that hangs over the entire enterprise: obviously Etaix is stressing that all the money in the world won’t bring this family joy. Etaix plays his two roles with definite delineations between the two men, and he directs one really lovely segue when Yoyo’s love (Luce Klein) walks down a hallway in the chateau, opens a door and then steps into the circus ring where she’s a bareback rider: a magical use of cinematic techniques stressing the separate worlds the two now occupy.
As Long as You’ve Got Your Health – 4/5
This collection of four short films offers something for everyone. “Insomnia” finds our hero (Pierre Etaix) trying to read himself to sleep with a vampire yarn which rather keeps him awake as he visualizes what he’s reading by putting himself into his mind’s eye as the bloodsucker. “The Movies” involves two scenarios: a bungler (Pierre Etaix) trying to find a seat in an über-crowded theater followed by a succession of ridiculous ads more typical of television than a movie theater. The title comic sequence stresses the hectic pace Parisians are subjecting themselves to in today’s haphazardly busy world. “Into the Woods No More” finds hilarious fun in three different parties encroaching on each other’s space in a woodland area: a hunter, a picnicking couple, and a woodsman.
Ironically, the title sequence is the weakest of the four though it begins strongly with some great visual gags. “Insomnia” mixes color real life scenes with black and white visualizations of what he’s reading with some very witty camera maneuvers mimicking his reading style. “The Movies” and “Into the Woods No More” are uneven in comic invention but at their best are both hilarious. Etaix is definitely the performing MVP in each of the four shorts contained here.
Le Grand Amour – 4/5
After ten years of happy marriage, Pierre (Pierre Etaix) and Florence (Annie Fratellini) become the victims of gossip as neighbors and friends begin thinking he’s playing around on her. Truth be told, Pierre has just gotten a young, beautiful new secretary (Nicole Calfan) whom he’s begun to fantasize about. When Florence goes on a two week vacation, Pierre decides that the time is right to make his move though he’s so inexperienced with young girls that he checks in with his friend Jacques (Alain Janey) for some helpful pointers.
Etaix and co-screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriére have filled the film with some very droll visual jokes, but their midlife crisis plot for Pierre is rather banal. The filmmaker does dare to dot his comedy with some satirical swipes at “friends” who imagine the worst of him even when he’s innocent; it seems the world can’t help gossiping about those who are happy just to attempt to bring them down to their own levels of misery. Etaix also stages a rather daring homosexually-comic scene between Pierre and his friend Jacques (appalling a restaurant patron who sees the two men interacting and naturally thinks the worst when we know it’s all innocent inquiry and instruction). There is also a surreal sequence involving bed vehicles on a highway that comes out of nowhere and is very funny even with its oddness and another fantasy sequence where the squabbling couple decides to divorce and divides everything in two. All of these inventive flights of fancy give the mundane plot some spice but don’t solve its intrinsic problems of predictability.
Land of Milk and Honey – 2.5/5
For his last film, Pierre Etaix chose to do a documentary detailing a cross-section of life in France circa 1968-1969. But the observations are skewed ones: he’s chosen uninformed, indifferent subjects to interview on subjects like the moon landing, eroticism, societal violence, the lure of stardom, adultery, camping, television, even questions about his own reputation. He spends an unconscionable amount of time at an open mic night featuring the most untalented group of singers you’ll ever have the misfortune to listen to. He also darts around a campsite, a circus, and a street fair and shows us life’s little ironies: people on the soundtrack discussing famine in the world while the camera records dozens of extremely obese people walking around the talkers. The flower power generation gets some screen time while interviewees talk about the indifference of this generation to things like learning music or their aversion to marriage. There is a group of fireman participating in a greased firepole contest while a nearby forest is burning (eventually put out by a bunch of civilians).
Etaix’s slanted view of a society in torment doesn’t make for very entertaining viewing though he begins the film triumphantly explaining to the audience that he is making a documentary and has mountains of footage to deal with. Meanwhile the footage begins its own attack on him and his film editor in the film’s only truly enjoyable sequence. And that view was shared by the public whose reaction to the film ranged from outright indifference to outrage, so much so that the film was pulled after ten days in the theater and lost its producer a great deal of money. Etaix has made no other theatrical films though he has directed for television and appeared in the works of others.
The Shorts – 4/5
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The first two short films are framed in their original 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio and presented in 1080p using the AVC codec while Feeling Good is framed at 1.66:1. Grayscale is beautifully presented in these films with vivid blacks and crisp whites. The images are marred only by some fading along the left side of the frame with the first two shorts. Otherwise, the restorations have made the films look almost like new and are certainly unconcerned with any age-related artifacts that might distract one’s eye from the comic business at hand.
The Suitor – 5/5
The film is framed at 1.66:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The image is gorgeously sharp and detailed from beginning to end and features no age artifacts or residue from its extensive restoration. The grayscale is beautifully composed with deep blacks and bright whites all making for a terrific viewing experience. For the few subtitles that are present, the white titles show up very clearly. The film has been divided into 9 chapters.
Yoyo – 4/5
Framed at 1.66 and presented in 1080p using the AVC codec, the film isn’t in the same league in terms of sharpness with the other films on disc one. While at its best it’s crisp and clear, there are shots which are notably softer and indistinct with the grayscale not always being at consistent levels in terms of black levels. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
As Long as You’ve Got Your Health – 4/5
The 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The black and white shorts are sharper and more detailed than the ones that use color which is a bit muted and with sharpness somewhat less than optimum. But the restoration has rendered clean images that are generally a pleasure to view. White subtitles are clear and clean, and the film has been divided into 4 chapters.
Le Grand Amour – 4.5/5
Etaix’s first all-color film is framed at 1.66:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. While sharpness varies just a bit in the early going, color control is nicely consistent, and flesh tones are very realistic. There’s a bit of shimmer in some shrubbery later in the film, but otherwise it looks very good. White subtitles are easy to read, and the film has been divided into 13 chapters.
Land of Milk and Honey – 3/5
The film is framed at 1.66:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. A mixture of color and black and white footage, much of the film was shot on the fly with the resultant soft focus and grainy textures common to such guerilla filmmaking. The image is clean due to the restoration, but it’s by far the least impressive looking film in the set.
The Shorts – 4/5
Audio Rating: 4/5
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix emphasizes the Foleyed sound effects too brittlely, but the audio track is otherwise unencumbered by age-related problems associated with mono tracks of long ago. There is very little dialogue, so that’s never a problem to contend with.
The Suitor – 4/5
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix was post synched so that once again sound effects have a rather sharp and brittle timbre that often jars with the lush music by Jean Paillaud and the sparse dialogue. There are no age-related problems with hiss or crackle, however.
Yoyo, As Long as You’ve Got Your Health, Le Grand Amour, Land of Milk and Honey – 4/5
The hiss is missing from these PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mixes, but the brittle sound effects (particularly in Yoyo‘s first third) are still very much present. What little dialogue that’s here is clear, and the circus-tinged score and the haunting theme song (composed by Jean Paillaud) in Yoyo which gets frequent replays has good fidelity. As Long as You’ve Got Your Health and Le Grand Amour have less audacious sound effects that seem far less grating to the ear, a distinct improvement from earlier films. Land of Milk and Honey relies far less on artificial sound and is the most natural sounding of the films.
Introduction to the Shorts (5:28, HD): Pierre Etaix introduces each of the films on the two discs, but those new to the movies should skip these beginning comments until after viewing lest some of the best gags be spoiled.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Introduction to The Suitor (3:59, HD)
Introduction to Yoyo (4:45, HD)
Pierre Etaix, un destin animé (1:00:45, HD): Etaix’s wife Odile offers this documentary tribute to her husband as he discusses his early goals, the influences on his work, and welcomes comments by some of his contemporaries.
Introduction to As Long as You’ve Got Your Health (3:43, HD)
Introduction to Le Grand Amour (6:03, HD)
Introduction to Land of Milk and Honey (3:51, HD)
54-Page Booklet: contains cast and crew lists for all of the films and shorts along with original poster art for them, an essay on the restorations of the films, and film critic David Cairns critical overview of all of the films contained in the package.
Timeline: which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
There is lots of hilarity to be found in Criterion’s Pierre Etaix bundling together the famous comic filmmaker’s celebrated and long-unavailable decade worth of film works into one convenient package. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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