Étaix - 2013 06 21 - As Long As You're Healthy


French 1966
Dir. Pierre Étaix
Running Time: 78m

Only one of the five episodes originally planned for AS LONG AS YOU’RE HEALTHY had a happy ending. That one is FEELING GOOD, in which Pierre takes his foibles on a camping trip. It was cut from the feature four years after its 1966 festival prize-winning debut. This change strengthens the acerbic tone of tonight’s comedic quatrain, which ends up riffing on the disjunctions of a man too modern for nature and not modern enough for society. The bemused bourgeoisie is persecuted in his natural habitat (apartment, theatre, office) and persecutes outside of it (hunting grounds). But hey, “as long as you’ve got your health!” Doesn’t this line of satirical inquiry seem almost optimistic today?

Elements of Pierre’s detached denizen should be recognizable to those familiar with the exploits of Jacques Tati’s uncouth clown, M. Hulot. And for good reason: Étaix worked at Tati’s company, Specta Films, from ‘54 to ‘58 when MON ONCLE was released. According to David Bellos, a Tati biographer, Étaix’ gag contributions to the film went largely uncredited. Étaix, an accomplished illustrator, even designed the film’s poster, including Tati’s now iconic, lithely-poised silhouette.

According to Étaix’, his relationship with the comic master ended with a painful, silent separation after MON ONCLE. So it was with surprise that the day before its premiere, Étaix was invited to audition for Tati’s Olympia Theatre live production, Jour de Fête. Tati gave him the best spot in the show, lending Étaix a memory he reports with fondness. It is perhaps notable that, with the exception of LE GRAND AMOUR, Étaix’ entire corpus was released in the nine years between Tati’s MON ONCLE (1958) and PLAYTIME (1967).

One regular attendee of Tati’s performances had come to know Étaix. The two chatted about a film in which Kassagi, a magician and mutual friend, was cast. Upon hearing that Étaix was no stranger to prestidigitation, Robert Bresson cast him as Kassagi’s sidekick in PICKPOCKET (1959). Étaix reports his intrigue at the opportunity to observe an auteur with such souci de perfection: “…it greatly excited me; he was unusual, I was terribly impressed by his work and was curious to see how he shot it.” To place Bresson as a fan of Tati’s physical hijinx, we need look no further than Bresson’s first film, LES AFFAIRES PUBLIQUES (1934), a comedy in the vein of Mack Sennett. It was during the shoot for PICKPOCKET that Étaix met his longtime collaborator and co-writer, Jean-Claude Carriére.

21 June 2013