I have to admit that lately I’ve had a major obsession with the Turner Classic Movie channel. It’s been a great resource in catching up with classic films, and I also stumble across some memorable gems every now and then. Some of these are titles I’ve never heard of before so I feel fortunate to have stumbled across them. The other day I sat down to watch a film titled Yoyo having never heard of it before. The film was written and directed by French filmmaker Pierre Étaix, who unfortunately never became well known outside of France due to the unfortunate distribution deals that prevented his films from being released stateside for a long time. But Étaix did have an influence on modern artists such as Woody Allen and Terry Gilliam. I also can’t help but wonder how much Yoyo influenced the 2011 film The Artist which immediately came to mind as I started watching this.
Yoyo is a film whose plot spans two generations beginning with a father and then moving on to his son (both played by Étaix). It begins in the 1920s with a bored millionaire who has everything except happiness due to a long lost love who got away. Now what makes this film fun to watch is that not only does the story span several decades, but the style of the film matches up with the time periods it’s covering. So the first third of the film is styled after silent films as it shows the life of this millionaire up until he loses everything in the 1929 stock market crash. Then the film becomes a “talkie” and is styled after early sound films. Étaix was also heavily influenced by the slapstick comedy of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, so the slapstick throughout this film, especially in silent film section, is great to watch.
Just before the millionaire loses his fortune, he is reunited with his lost love, who is performing in a circus that has come to town. She has a young son, who performs as a clown and bears a striking resemblance to the millionaire, who everyone calls Yoyo. When the millionaire loses everything, he happily joins the circus to be with his love and their son and from here the story focuses on Yoyo as he grows into adulthood and is determined to restore his father’s wealth and recover the magnificent home he lost.
Étaix himself had once worked in a circus, and in a way, Yoyo pays homage to his circus days. The film seems to meander through time and history, through events like World War II and then on into post-war and the age of television, with the style of the film continually evolving with it. Overall I thought this was an impressive film and really enjoyed it. The comedy that’s scattered throughout is genuinely hilarious and clever.
Incidentally, I had just watched Jacques Tati’s 1953 film Mr. Hulot’s Holiday just over a week before seeing Yoyo. Tati had been a mentor to Étaix, so I guess it was just happy coincidence to have viewed both these films which pay homage to the slapstick genre. I would recommend both these French films if you’re looking for classic physical comedy outside the silent film era.