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Pierre Etaix shorts

Posted by martinteller on May 31, 2014

I recently acquired Criterion’s Pierre Etaix box set from the library.  I decided to start with the shorts to see if they would whet my whistle for the features (and besides, the first two shorts are his earliest works anyway).  In Rupture, Etaix tries to write a letter — presumably to an ex-lover who jilted him — but is confounded by pens, paper, ink, desk, stamps and chair.  The physical comedy is inventive though occasionally a bit tedious, and the short is notable for its heightened sound effects.  In the Oscar-winning Happy Anniversary, he tries to race home for an anniversary dinner with his wife, but this time he’s confounded by other drivers… as well as his own mistakes.  This one was quite an improvement and sported some really good gags.  It also benefits from casting a wider net; like compatriot Jacques Tati’s “Hulot” films, Etaix includes the trials and tribulations of other characters rather than making it all about himself.  Feeling Good is even more egalitarian.  Etaix is forced out of his serene, solitary tent in the woods and must relocate to a crowded, confusing communal campsite.  This short was meant to be part of the sketch collection As Long As You’ve Got Your Health, but Etaix removed it in favor of another.  It’s not hard to see why.  The jokes here are mostly pretty standard and predictable… the leisurely pace seems to mimic M. Hulot’s Holiday, but the material isn’t nearly as strong.  It ends up feeling rather aimless and tiresome, though there a few decent bits scattered throughout.

Etaix’s focus on the inconvenience of modern conveniences is in my wheelhouse, and I was encouraged enough by Happy Anniversary to keep going with him.  He has a nice everyman quality that reminds me of Keaton (and again, Tati).  But I think I will skip over The Suitor for now and proceed to his most famous film, YoyoRatings: Rupture – Good (73); Happy Anniversary – Very Good (86); Feeling Good – Fair (62)



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