Le Monde is one of several French news outlets reporting on the passing of comedian, director, screenwriter and designer Pierre Etaix. "Not many comics can claim effusive praise from both Jerry Lewis and François Truffaut, much less a close partnership with a screenwriter of Luis Buñuel movies and a role in a Robert Bresson film," wrote Nicolas Rapold on the occasion of a retrospective at Film Forum in 2012. "Yet the French performer Pierre Etaix, one of cinema’s finest physical comedians after the silent era, is little known even to fans of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Perhaps Mr. Etaix’s focus on wordless physical comedy came at a strange moment: the 1960s, just as the French New Wave was making a splash. But over the course of several features and shorts, the slight, liltingly graceful Mr. Etaix developed his own gently melancholic style. With and without dialogue, he charted simple stories and routines with a practical elegance rarely seen since the silent era."

Also in the New York Times that same year—Etaix's films had been tied up for two decades in rights disputes and their release in the US by Janus Films was celebrated with revivals from coast to coast—Manohla Dargis reviewed Le Grand Amour (1969), which "centers on Pierre (Mr. Etaix), a kind of Gallic Walter Mitty whose daydreams about women inspire both joyously funny and moving flights of fancy before and during his marriage to Florence (Annie Fratellini, the future Mrs. Etaix). Written by Mr. Etaix and his frequent collaborator, the brilliant Jean-Claude Carrière, the film has a directness and comic purity that a child would enjoy." By the end, it "transforms into a paragon of the Surrealist imagination and a delirious manifestation of that old, promising phrase: free love."

"Dazzled by the circus as a child, Mr. Étaix became a clown and joined a theatrical troupe while still a teenager," wrote Kristin M. Jones in the Wall Street Journal, also in 2012. "He also studied music, illustration, painting and glass design—interests that have clearly shaped his graceful and precise directing style—and as a performer has drawn on inspirations including Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Another influence was Jacques Tati, whom Mr. Étaix met in 1954. Noticing his sketches, Tati hired Mr. Étaix to assist him on Mon Oncle (1958); he later adopted a drawing Mr. Étaix made of him as his trademark. Mr. Étaix has acted in numerous films over the years, most recently appearing in the great Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's Le Havre (2011)."


"Capable of so many characters and styles, it’s no wonder it takes combined comparison to so many of film’s comedy greats to describe him," wrote Sarah Mankoff, introducing a generous batch of clips for Film Comment in 2012. Pierre Etaix was 87.

For more—much more—see "The Return of Pierre Etaix" (October 2012) and "The Return of Pierre Etaix, Part II" (April 2013).

Updates: "His first feature, Le Soupirant (The Suitor, 1963), was a huge success at home and abroad, and established Etaix as 'the French Buster Keaton,'" writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "This was followed by Yoyo (1965), Etaix’s masterpiece, in which he plays a spoilt millionaire who loses everything in the Wall Street crash, then finds his former sweetheart, a circus horse rider, and their son Yoyo, a budding clown. This enchanting nostalgic comedy romance, paying tribute to the tone and technique of silent cinema, has no dialogue for the first 30 minutes except for creative sound effects such as the creaking of the vast chateau doors. As both the adult Yoyo and the millionaire, Etaix brought the same control and sense of style to his performance as to his direction."

"Though slapstick in its nature, his style avoided exaggerated movements, preferring a more delicate and understated sensibility that drew on his gifts as a sleight-of-hand artist," writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club. "Long a filmmaker’s favorite, he made his acting debut as one of the thieves in Robert Bresson’s classic Pickpocket (1959), and went on to appear in films by Nagisa Ôshima (Max mon amour), Aki Kaurismäki (Le Havre), Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Micmacs), and Jerry Lewis (the unreleased The Day the Clown Cried). His final role was in Otar Iosselliani’s Winter Song in 2015."

The Notebook has put together an index of its pieces on Etaix.


Pierre Etaix; photo by Martin Griffault (CC BY-SA 3.0).