Shut up when you speak, If you need anything … let me know and the immortal Where did you get in? We didn’t see you go out : these impossible, oxymoric titles of films will have made much the posterity of Philippe Clair. Died in Paris on Saturday at the age of 90, the actor and director was a registered trademark for nanar franchouillard in the 70s and 80s, moreover successful: in 1982, his More beautiful than me, you die with Aldo Maccione is tenth at the French box office with 3,264,775 admissions, far ahead Mad Max and Blade Runner.
Born Prosper Bensoussan in Ahfir (Morocco), Clair moved to Paris in the 1950s to become an actor, first on the stage, then by writing and playing shows marked by blackfoot humor – a Judeo-Arab comic marked by an accent, a gesture, a jargon and the uprooting of French Algeria. In 1967, he recorded the sketch on disc Nothing Nasser to run, satire of the Six Day War, which will be censored. He quickly finds his way to the cinema in front of and behind the camera with his first feature, Clicks and slaps (1965), prototype of the truth if I lie thirty years later. With the Great Java (1970), he finds spiritual colleagues in Les Charlots in a craft of disarticulated, out of tune burlesque, where a gag is sketched but slips by the coarseness and dissonance of its execution. Punk before its time therefore and despised by the critics.
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Clair thus reached a peak of its kind, of its kind, with The guide in a slide (1974), his broke and anachronistic version of Dictator – and ancestor also of Grandpa is resisting, casually. Henri Tisot (comic known for his imitation of De Gaulle) belches Hitler, organizer of football matches, alongside Alice Sapritch in – technically – Eva Braun. Nothing goes in the film, festival of grimaces and big squinting eyes. A constant in the cinema of Clair, which will make as a logical move to hire the head of Hollywood squinter Jerry Lewis in Where did you get in… (1984) and to make it catastrophic there.
In the 80s, Clair’s success waned in the face of the rise of the humor of the actors of Splendid, less cartoonish, more in touch with French society. His attempt at a more sober and sentimental cinema ends in the failure of his final film The extraordinary adventure of an unusual dad (1989). But the Franchouillarde label may have been unwelcome in a cinema that has promoted metics faces or made the regressive Italian kéké Aldo Maccione a star in France. From Francis Blanche mingling with the Charlots in the Great Java to Alan Silvestri, composer of the soundtracks of Predator, Back to the future and Avengers, parachuted to the music of Where did you get in …, there is always an attempt to transplant generation, culture, perhaps not so far removed from the experience of Pieds-Noirs repatriated to metropolitan France. Hence the other meaning of this “gag” in le guide in foil, where a priest appears in front of three soldiers (in tricolor pajamas) about to be executed by the Germans. “Of course, I am French, I am from Bab El Oued”, he said with a blackfoot accent. He is interpreted by Philippe Clair.