Étaix - 2013 06 27 - Land of Milk and Honey

France 1971
Directed by: Pierre Étaix
Running Time: 74 minutes
Format: 35mm

Eleven million workers were on strike. The wildcat movement of May 1968 had the French DeGaulle economy teetering on the brink of total collapse. It was during the aftershock of this event that Europe 1 Podium Radio hired Pierre Étaix to take an interview tour of France’s most desirable vacation spots. Instead of the light-hearted jive we’ve come to expect from promotional travel videos, Étaix turned in a Rabelaisian essay reflecting his cynical outlook on a country turning to consumerism and faltering in its political will. It’s as if the fastidious framing of a typical Étaix gag is here modulated into acerbic montage, pitting the sound of popular social commentary up against an imagistic counterpoint.

It was his fifth and final film. Later that decade, Étaix would return to clowning at the circus, coloring his career in film as a prodigious sojourn from a first love. Étaix to Nouvelle Littérraires in 1967: “At the beginning I did not especially want to work in cinema. I had met a marvelous clown named Nino Fabbri and wanted to play in the circus with him.” His films continued to play into the early 1990s when their producer (CAPAC) ceased to exhibit the films. Then in 1996, because of the apparent lack of interest, Étaix decided not to immediately renew his end of the copyright. Unfortunately, Jean-Claude Carrière did. It was this misalignment that was responsible for the legally-enforced twenty year disappearance of his work. Carrière and Étaix receive word in 2003 that their most recent attempt to renew copyrights together had been approved. It wasn’t until 2004 that Étaix signed a distribution deal to bring the films back into public view. Out of the frying pan and into the fire: the new distributor, Gavroche Production, effectively buried the films. It took a petition of 50,000 signatures, including those of Woody Allen, David Lynch and Jean-Luc Godard to overturn the flaccid contract in favor of le droit d’auteur – the author’s rights. The Groupama Gan Foundation and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage jointly supervised the restorations, first appearing in Paris in 2010.

While Étaix’ output bests fellow Frenchman Jean Vigo in volume (only one feature and five shorts), he remains the less remembered. And for those that do remember him, he is no less well regarded. In January of 2013, Étaix was promoted to the position of commander in the Order of Arts and Letters.

27 June 2013