Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The films of Pierre Etaix, Part One

Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki was unfortunate not to be officially recognised among a remarkably strong line-up at Cannes this year. His was one of many welcome returns, not least because his new movie, Le Havre, features remarkable French director Pierre Etaix (pictured above, left). Etaix was fêted at Cannes last year when his masterpiece Le grand amour (The Great Love, 1969) was screened by way of highlighting the restoration of his tremendous back catalogue of five features, long lost amid contractual constrictions and to the effects of time on film stock.

Trained as an artist, Etaix served a form of apprenticeship on Jacques Tati's Mon oncle (1958). Etaix illustrated a novelisation of Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot by Jean-Claude Carrière (also 1958) and the duo continued to collaborate on all of Etaix's best work, starting with perfect short, Rupture (1961); a second, Heureux anniversaire (Happy Anniversary), won the Oscar for best short film in 1963. (Carrière has gone on to work with Luis Buñuel, Milos Forman, Jonathan Glazer, Michael Haneke, Philip Kaufman, Louis Malle and Volker Schlöndorff, among many others.)

Rupture introduced Etaix's perennial character - the writer-director starred in his first four features - the dapper, slightly dreamy office worker. It was a role he developed for his first full-length film, Le soupirant (The Suitor; 1963, 83 mins). Le soupirant shares many themes with Etaix's best film, Le grand amour: the bourgeois lead lives at home with his parents; in the pursuit of love a series of misunderstandings occurs. The film features a notably discordant soundtrack and is at its most exuberant when Etaix gives rein to his clown's instincts. Elsewhere are the familiar sleight of hand and moments of inspired fantasy featuring automated objects.

Part two follows tomorrow

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