Sunday, September 6, 2015


Tomorrow is Labor Day, which means TCM's annual salute to the Telluride Film Festival, with movies of some of the people who have been honored by the festival in the past. Among the movies airing tomorrow is Yoyo at 9:15, for previous honoree Pierre Étaix.

Étaix was a clown for his normal profession, but made several movies in the 1960s including Yoyo. Here, he plays two characters. The adult Yoyo in the final thirds of the movie, and Yoyo's father in the first two segments. That first segment takes place in the 1920s. Dad is a wealthy industrialist whose money has bought him a mansion just outside of Paris full of servants and almost everything that he could want... except for the love of his life. But our millionaire is in luck. A travelling circus is coming to town, and this circus includes the lovely Isolina (Claudine Auger). Isolina is the woman who just happens to be the love of the millionaire's wife. They met several years earlier, and obviously had a torrid affair, since the affair produced Yoyo, who was born after the last time the circus left town and about whom our millionaire knew nothing. The millionaire meets Isolina and for the first time his son, but it's a meeting that's going to amount to nothing as the circus goes off again and the millionaire has to go back to his industry.

A few years later means 1929, the stock market crash, and the global depression. Our millionaire loses all of his wealth, which normally would be considered a bad thing, but here has the silver lining of allowing him to run off with the circus and join his child Yoyo and the child's mother for an itinerant life as circus performers. It's not exactly much of a life, but it's one that's satisfying enough for the family. That is, at least until World War II and the Nazi invasion come. Mom and Dad are written out of the movie and Yoyo fights for France.

Fast forward several more years. Yoyo has become a clown and with the advent of television has become able to show off his talents to much larger audiences and has become quite financially successful as a result. Pretty much, he's almost as successfull as his dad was before Dad met Mom and she had Yoyo. So Yoyo decides he's going to find the mansion that Dad had, and when he does find it, he's going to restore it to its former glory. It's a noble goal, but the bad news is that when he does restore it, he finds that he's missing the same things that his father was missing when he was living in the house 40 years earlier.

There's a lot about Yoyo that's interesting, especially visually, since Étaix was a clown and dealt more in visual than audible humor. Although, having said, that, probably my favorite scene in the movie involves Dad giving his son a little help with the history lesson that Mom is teaching Yoyo, a scene which combines the two senes. The reliance on visual humor also means that there are some uneven parts. This is especially true at the beginning. Étaix made the decision to do the entire first sequence at the 1920s vintage mansion in the style of a silent movie. I don't think Étaix quite succeeds in recreating that style, with the result being something that grates and feels almost interminable, as though you're waiting for something else to happen. Fortunately, once the action gets to 1929, the movie starts talking fully, and it really takes off.

I don't know that Yoyo is available on DVD at all.

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