Do you remember when I reviewed a film called Land of Milk and Honey? When I reviewed this film, I told you about Pierre Etaix. Etaix is a comedian in France who is a lot like Jacques Tati. Tati and Etaix both stress physical comedy, get their cues from silent comedians, and direct their own films. However Etaix is not quite as popular as Tati is in France or even in the States (although the average American would have no clue who either one of these people are). Why he is not as popular is kind of a mystery, but I am going to use a analogy. Tati is a lot like Charlie Chaplin. He has one character that is consistent in his manner of dress and his actions throughout the course of his filmography. He stresses more prat falls and is generally more physical. He also has social commentary running through almost all of his films. But Pierre Etaix is more like Buster Keaton. Although Buster Keaton had roughly the same attire, his characters changed throughout his films. If only slightly. Keaton also had an eye for physicality, his humor always seemed more internalized than Chaplin. His tricks were subtle, and were questionable as to whether or not you should laugh at them. Just like Etaix is not as popular as Tati, Keaton is not as popular as Chaplin for the same reasons. On the surface they both seemed to be doing the same things at around the same time period, but if you look closely you will see some subtle differences.
The Suitor was Etaix’s first full length film that he directed himself. But this first feature came after years of hard work in a circus as a clown, assisting Jacques Tati on Mon Oncle and creating short films for himself. The Suitor’s plot is simple. A young naive man goes out looking for love in order to satisfy his parents. But what is not simple is the humor that derives from this premise. At one point in the film he goes to a night club. While there he tries several different tricks he observes men are using to pick up the chicks. But all of them fail miserably. Only when he sits down to a drunk and very loud woman and pays her bill does he finally get some notice from the opposite sex. He gets stuck with this woman who is crass, very drunk and is willing to spend his money willy nilly. At one point he tries to get her to her room after she has passed out. This is one of the most funniest films in the film. He tries desperately to keep all of her accessories together, but always seems to lose one thing, but when he goes to pick it up he loses several things. He tries to put her in an elevator several times, only to backfire every time. All of this might seem mundane and in fact using words to describe such a physical sequence is self-defeating in a way.
Etaix can’t seem to get rid of this woman. The woman who plays this horrible example of the opposite sex did it so well. Etaix always tries to escape from her grasp and when he finally does at the end of every scene they are in together, she calls out this very French call. It sounds like she is calling her cat to come drink some warm milk. Although she is made out to be completely ridiculous, you still felt for her when Etaix would slip away. She is being strung along by a man who is too polite to say no and mean it.
The Suitor is a great introduction to Etaix’s films. He is an interesting man, so I suggest that you not only watch this film (and remember avoid Land of Milk and Honey… for your own sake) but read a little bit about him. He is super cool. I wish he was my grandpa…