Le Grand Amour
  • Le Grand Amour

This month the Gene Siskel Film Center presents a retrospective on Pierre Etaix, the venerable French comedian whose work as a writer-director-star dates mostly from the 60s. I try not to toss around words like revelatory, but I’d never heard of this guy before, and almost every one of his comedies in the series blew me away. In this era of cheap wisecracks, the sight gag is a dying art; with Jackie Chan settling into middle age, the only contemporary aces I can think of are Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (Rumba, The Fairy). Etaix’s early classics—which were tied up in litigation for 30 years but have now been beautifully restored—are so loaded with choice visual humor that they barely need soundtracks. When Yoyo, the circus clown he plays in the movie of the same name, is asked how he comes up with all these gags, he replies simply, “I observe.” It’s a revealing answer—we all know people who hear but never listen, so it shouldn’t surprise us that most comedians look but never see.