Étaix - 2013 06 07 - The Suitor


French 1962
Dir. Pierre Étaix
Running Time: 83m

Time and again I’ve observed a fanatical obstinance in our masterful artists. An artistic reticence that, when it finally yields, exploits an avant-garde instead of merely adopting it. Charlie Chaplin made silent films well past the point where Hollywood had moved on to the talkie. But when he caved in 1940 with THE GREAT DICTATOR – oh what a cave! Even today we see reluctant giants taking on 3D: Wim Wender’s 2011 kinetically stage-crafted PINA and Jean-Luc Godard’s 2013 feature, 3X3D, which unsurprisingly stacks dimensions in heretofore unseen ways.

When Pierre Étaix released his first feature film, THE SUITOR, in 1962 the era of the silent clown had all but passed. But Étaix’ sense of vintage comedy was steady. THE SUITOR’S protagonist, Pierre (played by Étaix), is his most Keaton-like to date. If men are from Mars and women from Venus, Pierre’s lovelorn sincerities are from another galaxy. His camera, too, was a product from another time. 1928, to be exact. Étaix insisted on this model since it could achieve silent film era effects that were near impossible with contemporary devices. Also running counter to the fashion of the times, Étaix allotted a good deal of secret planning with collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière – three years worth – into realizing THE SUITOR. His makeup and set-design techniques are visibly ancient.

THE SUITOR won Étaix the Louis Delluc Prize (like a French Pulitzer) in film. After seeing Étaix’ film again, French critic Georges Sadoul publicly bemoaned his decision to have voted L’IMMORTELLE (Robbe-Grillet) for the ‘63 prize. Sadoul: “For the last forty years and more, since the time of Jean Durand and Max Linder, has French cinema had any genuine comic authors? Many fine actors, certainly, but very few authors.” Étaix’ single shot visual gags are obsessively framed, lending humor even to the empty inlays of his images. His is the kind of comedy of a veritable author of the medium – funnier on screen than on the stage or in the street.

Before THE SUITOR, we’ll show Étaix’ first short film, RUPTURE (1961). It depicts a mechanized world bent on surprise and betrayal, culminating in a Preston Sturges-esque battle for man’s superiority over his décor (UNFAITHFULLY YOURS 1948). It’s a funny if terrifying premise for Étaix, whose legerdemain and physical control was key to his navigation of the world.

7 June 2013