Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The films of Pierre Etaix, Part Two

For his second feature, Yoyo (1965, 92 mins), French filmmaker Pierre Etaix entered his favoured world of the circus. (In 1973 he set up a circus school in France with wife Annie Fratellini, who was from a famous circus family.) Following the 1929 economic crash - and at the introduction of sound - a bored industrialist (Etaix) runs off with the mother of his son to form their own mini circus; the son grows up to become a famous clown, Yoyo, who dreams of restoring the old family château.

Etaix demonstrates his sound ear and balanced eye, though Yoyo's not quite as visually rich as Le soupirant, with its lovely scenes of Paris; typically, the director never quite allows himself a full-on happy ending. There are daring tributes to Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin and a tiny animation that would no doubt thrill avowed fan Terry Gilliam. Another fan, François Truffaut, wrote to Etaix after seeing Yoyo: 'It's a beautiful film in which I loved every shot and every idea, and which taught me many things about movies.' That's not bad, is it?

Etaix's first colour movie, and the best full-length introduction to his magical sensibility, Le grand amour (The Great Love; 1969, 85 mins), was followed by an assemblage of four sketches, Tant qu'on a la santé (As Long As You're Healthy; 1966/'71, 65 mins), in black-and-white and colour. It has some nice touches but rises to its peak in the last segment, Nous n'irons plus aux bois, which lays bare in sepia tones city folks' countryside idyll.

Etaix spent seven months assembling 4km of footage of the French on holiday alongside interviews on subjects as various as sexuality, advertising and the director himself, for his final conventional movie, Pays de Cocagne (Land of Milk and Honey; 1971, 80 mins). The result proved to be at odds with France's self-image post May 1968 - his camera seems more jaded than usual - and it proved to be his final conventional movie, a foray into the Omnimax format with old partner Jean-Claude Carrière in 1989 notwithstanding.

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