Filmmaker Jacques Tati has inspired many people throughout his lifetime. And for one comedian, actor and filmmaker, Pierre Etaix, is a man who had the opportunity to work with Tati but also alongside international talent such as Robert Bresson, Nagisa Oshima, Otar Iosseliani and Jerry Lewis.
Best known for his short and feature films from the 1960′s, you would think that Pierre Etaix, an Academy Award winner, would be a well-known name to cinema fans worldwide. But unfortunately, his films would be unavailable for decades due to a legal dispute with a distribution company.
But now Pierre Etaix's films will be released on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time in America courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
"Pierre Etaix - The Criterion Collection #655″ comes with digitally restored short films "Rupture" (1961) about an illustrator having a difficult time at work and "Happy Anniversary" ("Heureux Anniversaire", 1962), a short story about a wife preparing an anniversary meal for her husband but unfortunately, he is caught up in automobile and traffic situations and not sure if he can make it home in time. The short won an Academy Award in 1963 for "Best Short Subject" and a 1964 BAFTA Award for "Best Short Film".
The collection also includes his first feature film "The Suitor" (Le Soupirant), a film which was originally conceived as several shorts, but Etaix was told to create a feature film in which he did.
"The Suitor" features Etaix and writer Jean-Claude Carriere doing a homage to Laurel & Hardy in which a man (portrayed by Pierre Etaix) just wants to study astrology but because he lives with his parents, he is trying to fulfill his parents wishes of finding a woman to love and marry, but finding a woman is not as easy as he is not sure what it takes to meet a woman. While he manages to attract Laurence, a woman who lives next door, he becomes obsessed with a singer named Stella on television.
"Yo Yo" was a film created by Pierre Etaix during a difficult time in his life after his father was killed in road accident. Inspired by Federico Fellini's "8 1/2″, Etaix was excited about the possibility of doing something different but with slapstick. Together with Jean-Claude Carriere, the two were able to create a film that would incorporate their love of silent cinema but from its main protagonist but with sound from everyone and everything else.
The film is about a millionaire who has everything... a palace, material things, musicians, dancers but he doesn't have love. He often looks at a photo of a pretty woman of his past.
One day while attending the circus, he sees the woman on a white horse and we learn that the millionaire had a relationship with the woman and that she gave birth to his child named Yo Yo ten years ago. Both she and the child were raised in the circus lifestyle but when he marries the woman and both live with him in the chateau. For Yo Yo, to live in such luxury and a place that he loves becomes a big part of him. Fast forward and Yo-Yo has went from acrobat to a clown. But due to war, he is drafted into the military and when he gets out, he realizes that life has changed.
He returns to the chateau which has not been taken care of and so Yo Yo dedicates his life to working as a filmmaker and businessman to acquire wealth to keep up the place. But while doing so, he may have run into the same situations as his father, having the wealthy and focusing so much on material things, he may have let love pass him by.
For the next film titled "Tant qu'on a la santé" (As Long As You've Got Your Health), unfortunately with "Yo Yo" not doing well in the box office, producer's limited Etaix's budget for his latest film. Etaix has said that this film, he wished he had the budget to put certain things he wanted in the film but producers were adamant against it. So, having to use friends as extras and previous staff to make this film happen, Pierre went to work on "As Long As You've Got Your Health" which is a film divided into four parts.
The first part "I - L'insomnie" revolves around a man (portrayed by Pierre Etaix) who is having a hard time sleeping, so he picks up a vampire book and starts to get spooked out by it. While his wife is sleeping right next to him, as he reads, the audience watches the story unfold as a man tries to save a woman from Dracula. But unknown to the man, his wife has a secret.
The second part is "Le cinématographe" and shows a man (portrayed by Pierre Etaix), who goes to the movies to enjoy a western. But he quickly learns that watching a film in a crowded cinema can be quite difficult. Meanwhile, during the movie break, audiences at the theater are treated by the latest in absurd commercialism.
The third part is titled "Tant qu'on a la santé" and is about how life can be very busy for people in today's world. From the sound of one with a jackhammer and making so much noise that it disrupts peoples lives, people trying to smile as they are stuck in traffic or have some type of problems in their life, to the fast walking crowds of people going to working or leaving work and as everyone goes to the psychiatrist to help them out with stress, they also must suffer from stress.
And the final fourth part is titled "Nous n'irons plus au bois" and is set in a countryside. A man goes out to hunt, a couple goes to the countryside for a picnic and a farmer sets a wire fence to keep people out of his property. But what happens when the hunter and the couple start to go through the wired fence?
For "En pleine forme" ("Feeling Good"), the short was intended to be part of "As Long As You've Got Your Health" but was replaced by "I - L'insomnie". While created in 1966, the short was seen for the first time through the 2010 restoration of Pierre Etaix's films. The short is about a man who goes out to the country to get away from real life and go camping. But he's not an outdoorsman and tries his best to go camping. He immediately is ushered to an area of campers, but while everyone has their own campsite in an enclosed area, they live as if they are living like their real life and not enjoying nature.
With the success of "As Long As You've Got Your Health", the opportunity to make a bigger film came. And this time around, Pierre Etaix requested for a color film to be made but also with a larger budget, which the producers of the film agreed.
And so the film that Pierre would go on to make was titled "Le Grand Amour", made in 1969 and would star Annie Fratellini (Pierre's real-life wife and also onscreen) an actress Nicole Calfan.
The film revolves around Pierre (portrayed by Pierre Etaix), a man who is the boss of an industrial business and married to the owner's daughter Florence (portrayed by Annie Fratellini). Pierre begins the film talking about the woman he was friends with and how he met and married Florence. While their relationship is strong, the gossiping women around the area start talking false gossip about Pierre, who is seen saying hello to a woman walking down the street. When a woman tells another woman, the scene is exaggerated to the point that it makes it seem that Pierre has had an affair. The miscommunication leads to Florence leaving him for a few hours, but not knowing why his wife would leave, his friend Jacques (portrayed by Alain Janey) tells him that he should have married a much younger woman, so these problems wouldn't happen.
But as Pierre and Florence are able to patch things up in their marriage, a beautiful young woman named Agnes (portrayed by Nicole Calfan) has been hired to replace the longtime secretary who is leaving the company. Immediately, Pierre begins to fantasize about her everyday and becomes so obsessed with her to the point that he starts to avoid his wife, starts to collect fallen hair left behind by Agnes and has dreams of him sleeping with her.
And now Pierre starts to wonder if he wants to stay married with Agnes or go after his secretary.
The final film featured is a documentary titled "Land of Milk and Honey" ("Pays de Cocagne") and it's a film that is considered by Pierre Etaix to be his most important film. It's also a film that destroyed his filmmaking career to the point that Etaix would not direct another film for nearly 16 years.
The documentary was shot during the summer of '68 as his wife Annie Fratellini was a singer and wanted to take part in the Europe 1 sponsored music stage which was traveling throughout France. For Pierre, wanting to support his wife, he figured he would shoot his travel and find something interesting during his trip. And when he saw the advertising and the people that turned out for the Tour de France, Etaix was captivated by the many people at the event, campgrounds and at the beach.
But while traveling, he also learned that the people involved in the traveling music stage were amateurs who couldn't sing that well, but in their head, consider themselves great singers who want to make a major career of music. So, with so many ideas, Pierre decide to interview people from topics about the man on the moon, the power of advertising, eroticism, marriage and more.
But the film became an experimental film because he wanted to create a comedy, but since there was no script, all he could do is edit the film and make it fun. In the process, critics and viewers thought the film was mocking society and after 10 days in the theater, the bad press led the film to be pulled out and destroying Pierre Etaix's credibility as a filmmaker with no one in France wanting to work with the filmmaker ever again (until 1987).
VIDEO, AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
The shorts and feature films by Pierre Etaix is presented in 1080p High Definition for the very first time. Considering that the film has not been available on video due to legal issues that prevented the distribution of Pierre Etaix's films, audiences are getting the opportunity to seeing Pierre's films in the best picture quality possible.
The first shorts and feature films which include "Rupture", "Happy Anniversary", "The Suitor", "Yoyo", "As Long As You've Got Your Health" and "Feeling Good" are presented in black and white (some acts in "As Long As You've Got Your Health" are presented in color or sepia). For these earlier films, the film looks very good for its age and very clean. I didn't see any warping, damage or major flickering. Picture quality was very good for these films. Black levels were nice and deep while white and grays were well-contrast.
As for "Le Grand Amour" and "Land of Milk and Honey", these two films look very good. With "Le Grand Amour", there may be one scene in which Pierre visits his wife's family, where the film does show its age, but other than that, the color on these two films look fantastic and the film was definitely well-preserved. Also, no problems of discoloration, colors are vibrant and picture quality for the two color films look very good!
As for the monaural lossless audio, French dialogue is crystal clear, as with the music. I detected no major hissing, crackle or pops during my viewing of the film.
According to the Criterion Collection, thew new digital masters were made from 2010 restorations undertaken by Studio 17, The Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage and the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, under the supervision of director Pierre Etaix.
For the restorations of "Rupture", "Happy Anniversary", "Feeling Good" and the Suitor, the transfers were created in high-definition on a Spirit Datacine from the original 35 mm camera negatives and the sound was restored from the original track negative. The transfer of "Yoyo" was created in high-definition on a Spirit Datacine from a wet-gate printed 35 mm duplicate negative, and the sound was restored from the optical track negative. For "As Long as You've Got Your Health", the transfer was created in high-definition on a Spirit Datacine from the original 35 mm camera negative and a 35 mm duplicate negative and the sound was restored from the optical track negative. The transfer of "Le Grand amour" was created in 2K restoration on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35 mm camera negative and two-reels of wet-gate interpositive, and the sound was restored from the 35 mm magnetic tracks. And for "Land of Milk and Honey", the transfer was created in high definition on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm blow-up internegative made from the 16 mm reversal, while the sound was restored from the optical track negative.
Subtitles are presented in English.
"Pierre Etaix - The Criterion Collection #655" comes with the following special features:
Pierre Etaix Introduction - For each film presented in the ""Pierre Etaix - The Criterion Collection #655", there is about a six-minute introduction done by Pierre Etaix.
Pierre Etaix, un destin animé - (1:00:45) A portrait of the life and work of the director by his wife, made in 2011. From Pierre Etaix' career, his friendship with Jerry Lewis and his longtime working relationship with Jean-Claude Carriere.
"Pierre Etaix - The Criterion Collection #655" comes with a slipcase and 56-page booklet with the essays "The Return of Etaix" by David Cairns.
The collection of shorts and films from The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of "Pierre Etaix" is entertaining but also a glimpse of a man who lived his life as a clown but pursued filmmaking and wanted to make people laugh despite not having a massive budget like other French filmmakers.
Inspired by legendary filmmaker and famous comic actor Jacques Tati who captured audiences with his character Monsieur Hulot, Pierre Etaix used his character of Pierre (different characters on each film) and wanted to make his film comedies based on vaudeville and also incorporate silent film style comedy, with few words spoken but everything is visual and humorous.
Featuring films with unusual sound effects played during certain moments of a short or feature film, the goal by Etaix was to create entertainment visually. As clown who used visual jokes to make people laugh, Etaix felt he could do the same on a bigger scale through cinema.
While not a big name thanks to legal issues that prevented his films from being released, the Blu-ray release of "Pierre Etaix" will entertain audiences with its comedy but also films from the '60s that are now being released in HD for the very first time. And for some, this is probably the first time they have seen the film since its release in theaters back in the '60s.
"Rupture" has the comedy style of silent films in which a character tries to get work done but for each time he tries, he always ends up doing something so ridiculous that it effects his work. In "Happy Anniversary", the story is straightforward about a couple trying to celebrate their anniversary, but due to traffic and other circumstances, the husband (or boyfriend) must do all he can to get back home in time.
By the time you get to "The Suitor", there are some remnants of a Buster Keaton style, as one man of a wealthy family tries to explore the world and discover if he can find a woman (who will possibly be his wife), but how is a man with no experience with women, find the woman that wants to be with him?
In "Yoyo", the film is entertaining from its many locations to its cinematography and 1920′s dance choreography. The storyline was not the greatest, but I found the film to be entertaining and fascinating as it deals with two men who find out late in their lives that love is more important that financial objects.
For the film "As Long As You've Got Your Health", the film is quite accessible for viewers thanks to it being divided into four parts. And each film has its own charm. Possibly my favorite part revolves around how cinemas were packed at that time and how badly people would go to find a seat but how people could be rude during ones movie viewing. So, this part alone should connect with today's modern viewers. You also get the extra short titled "Feeling Good" which was originally supposed to be the first feature of "As Long As You've Got Your Health", but Etaix chose to use the vampire segments instead.
The best film in the set is "Le Grand Amour". Definitely a relevant film about a man's midlife crisis and wanting to see if he can attract the opposite sex but to also have feelings towards a younger, beautiful woman. But would this man risk his marriage for this secretary? The acting was top notch and the production for this film was much better than Etaix's previous films.
And the final film "Land of Milk and Honey" is truly an experimental film which included clever editing but was able to take something mundane and make it entertaining with the field of questions that relate from an era that is no longer. The film goes to show about how much risk Etaix was willing to take but while trying to use hours of film to make a film, using that as a visual script to edit and make a comedy. It didn't work during that time and the film was despised by many during that time, viewers today will probably see it more audacious and experimental than being critical of French society.
The set comes with an introduction by Pierre Etaix, who discusses each of his feature films and also a documentary put together by his wife Odile Etaix, which was also entertaining and informative. But giving us a chance to gain some insight of Pierre Etaix's work.
Overall, "Pierre Etaix - The Criterion Collection #655″ is an entertaining and enjoyable French comedy shorts/film set featuring the work of filmmaker/actor Pierre Etaix. From his early shorts to his feature films covering the 1960′s, each of the shorts and films presented in this set look fantastic thanks to its 2010 restoration by Studio 17, The Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage and the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, under the supervision of director Pierre Etaix. For those who enjoy silent cinema or comedy (especially early French comedy) that is more visual than dialogue-driven, will find "Pierre Etaix - The Criterion Collection #655″ to be a set worth owning!