Thursday, August 8, 2013

#655: Pierre Etaix

(Pierre Etaix, 1963-1971)

Criterion's Pierre Etaix boxset is going to be a revelation for just about anyone interested in digging into it. As a filmmaker, Etaix ranks somewhere between "occasionally listed as influential" and "totally forgotten," especially considering the fact that he hails from one of the highest profile cinematic countries. But a combination of rights issues, poor championing, and a career that existed primarily during an era when his light touch was not in line with the dominant radical tastes of the cinematic elite has left Etaix in a position totally undeserving of his talent. This set should reverse that.

While I wouldn't put Etaix on quite the same level as Tati, the comparison is not without merit. Both directors have relatively small catalogs, and both operate in light, mostly visual humor with a sharp satirical bend that gives their work more heft. At his best, most specifically with Yoyo, the absolute masterpiece in the set and a solid candidate for best comedy of the 60s, Etaix can rival Tati in his deft delivery and execution. Some jokes in these films are truly sublime - as a part-time comedian, I found myself in awe of Etaix's ideas and ability to execute them multiple times. This is comedy in its highest form.

Of the five full-length films included here, the only one I didn't especially care for was The Land of Milk and Honey. After a promising opening, the footage Etaix shot never really comes together. And his talent lies in his impeccable execution so much that the documentary format takes away from his perfectionism, making him less special. His four fiction full-length are pretty consistently enjoyable, even As Long As You've Got Your Health, which is essentially a series of mostly silent shorts cobbled together. As a whole body of work, it's extremely impressive, and while his style is somewhat tied to his era, it would have been really wonderful to see him evolve into the 70s, 80s, and even 90s (Etaix is still alive, and contributes to the box). As it stands, this must be one of the most underrated comedic voices in film. Don't overlook this set.

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