A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, September 21, 2015

Yoyo (Pierre Étaix, 1965)


Yoyo (Philippe Dionnet) retrieves the cigarette packet his mother has sent from the trailer to his father in the car.
Even though at one point in Yoyo the character Pierre Étaix is playing resists a photographer's attempt to have him pose in Buster Keaton's porkpie hat, it's clear that Étaix worships Keaton. The film is replete with sight gags that Keaton would have loved, such as the sequence in which, while traveling down a road in a trailer pulled by a car, the characters cook up an ingenious way to pass a packet of cigarettes from the rear of the trailer to the driver's seat of the car. The story, devised by Étaix and the great Jean-Claude Carrière, is a slight one: In 1925, a millionaire lives alone in great luxury in his chateau, attended by a battalion of servants who wait on him hand and foot: When he wants to walk his dog, for example, a chauffeur drives him around the courtyard of the estate while the dog trots alongside the car on a leash. But the millionaire is silently pining for a lost love, whose image he keeps in a desk drawer. One day, a circus arrives at the estate, bringing with it the woman (Luce Klein), who is an equestrian/acrobat in the show. It also brings a small boy (Philippe Dionnet) dressed as a clown, who turns out to be the millionaire's son with the woman. When the stock market crashes in 1929, the millionaire goes bust, so he finds the woman and the boy, who is known as Yoyo, and sets out on the road with them as traveling performers. Years pass, and the boy grows up and makes his own fortune in the new medium of television, which enables him to restore the dilapidated chateau to its former glory. (The son is also played by Étaix.) What makes the film a charmer is its continuous barrage of sight gags -- as well as sound gags: The great gilded doors in the chateau squeak loudly every time they're opened, mocking their grandiosity. There are in-jokes, too: The little traveling troupe arrives in one town to find that another troupe has beat them there -- the poster for the rival troupe announces the appearance of Zampanò and Gelsomina, the characters played by Anthony Quinn and Giulietta Masina in La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954). At a running time of 92 minutes, Yoyo seems to me slightly overextended, but it's a welcome discovery, very much in the vein of Jacques Tati's movies -- on which Étaix worked as an assistant director. Although his film Happy Anniversary won the Oscar for best short  subject in 1963, Étaix is not as well known in the States as Tati. His Wikipedia biography seems to have been written by someone whose first language isn't English.

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