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Comedy Pick: The Pierre Etaix Collection

By Patrick Friel

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(Criterion, $49.95)

Pierre Etaix Le grand amour

The five features and three shorts made by French actor/director/comedian Pierre Etaix between 1961 and 1971 have thankfully resurfaced after a long period of unavailability. Having served as assistant director to Jacques Tati on Mon Oncle and appeared in Bresson’s Pickpocket, Etaix produced a series of comedies that retain Tati’s situational humor and sight gags but move away from his Hulot-specific qualities—instead creating more diverse roles for himself, including a Keaton-esque loner, a rags-to-riches clown, and a married businessman smitten with his secretary. In his near-perfect short Happy Anniversary (62), Etaix is a white-collar husband beset by a string of hindrances while coming home from work. His most celebrated feature, Yoyo (65), is a clever—at times brilliant—comingling of Keaton’s physical comedy, Chaplin’s pathos, Tati’s gentle social observation, and the broader farce of Frank Tashlin. Despite the influences, though, Etaix’s work always feels all his own: he’s the genuine article.

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