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Pierre Etaix: The Shorts

Written by: Jill Blake, CC2K Film Editor

CC2K Film Editor Jill Blake on a collection of films from the beloved, underrated French director/actor Pierre Etaix. 

For decades, the work of Pierre Etaix has been unavailable to audiences. Unfortunately Etaix did not have legal claim to his films, nor distribution rights. This resulted in his life’s work literally rotting away because of a bad business deal. After years of petitions and legal battles, Etaix reclaimed his films only to discover they would require an extensive restoration.

In 2010, Etaix’s efforts to bring his work back to the public not only included restoration of the film image and sound, but also an effort to ensure that his films would be preserved long term. According to the booklet included with the Criterion Collection blu-ray release, the restoration produced two sets of internegatives: one for striking prints for distribution, the other to be solely used for long-term preservation of Etaix’s films. The first internegatives made a series of “prestige prints” in both 35mm and digital, and are used for special screenings and festivals. The prestige prints and the long-term internegatives are being stored at Cinémathèque française for preservation.

The Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray set includes both feature-length and short subjects from Etaix’s career. Here’s a look at two of Etaix’s best shorts: Rupture and Happy Anniversary.

Rupture (1961)
d. Pierre Étaix and Jean-Claude Carrière

Rupture was Etaix’s first short and has the same spirit of comic masters like Jacques Tati (Etaix’s mentor), Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. Etaix’s character picks up his mail and in it is a letter from his lady love. He cheerfully heads up to his apartment, a real cracker jack box of a place. The man sits down at a small writing desk and opens the letter. The smile on his face quickly fades. Along with the letter is his photo, ripped in half. For a moment or two, the man is heartbroken until he decides to reply with his own break-up letter. The elements are against him from the start. First, he must fix a broken fountain pen. Once repaired, the ink begins to leak all over his page. His tie becomes sealed in the envelope, the scissors won’t cut paper, stamps won’t stick. It’s as if the letter from his lady has cast a spell on his apartment and is in an all-out revolt against his writing a reply. One of the greatest gags involves a gun…but it’s not at all what it seems. 


Happy Anniversary (1962)
d. Pierre Étaix and Jean-Claude Carrière

In this Academy Award winning short subject, a married couple is celebrating their wedding anniversary. In anticipation of her husband’s arrival, the wife sets a table with china, fresh linens, and candles. She neatly tucks a small wrapped gift into his dinner napkin. The husband (Etaix) is running errands for the anniversary celebration: he picks up flowers, wine, chocolates. Unfortunately, he is unable to get into his car. The car in front and behind have wedged his car tight into its parking space. He finds the owner of one car, who is getting a shave in a barber shop, to come out and move his car. With the city bustling around him, the husband manages to keep moving in an effort to get home to his wife and the meal that awaits. However, one obstacle after another stops his forward progress; one minute he’s in a stranger’s car, the next he’s running into a shop to pick up another gift. At the end of his long, eventful journey home, flowers smashed (and chocolates likely melted), he finds his wife has given up on a night of romance.