Yo Yo (1965): Jean Etaix’s Singularly Original and Witty Comedy

From the Archives:

Pierre Étaix directed and starred in Yo Yo, a French comedy about the life a millionaire’s son, spanning from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Yo Yo
Yoyo film poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Étaix as Yo Yo in 2012

The Premise:

After losing his fortune in the stock-exchange crash, he teams up with an equestrienne and becomes a circus clown.

Yo Yo is the son of a 1920s billionaire who, although having everything he fancies and living in old castle, is not happy. Instead, he fancies the simple life of a beautiful circus actress.

When the stock-exchange crashes, rendering him both poor and free, he joins the circus where his love interest is performing.

They have a son who starts in the circus as a clown but later becomes a successful actor and uses his new wealth to buy back his father’s castle.

Marvelously talented, Etaix is a master of a subtle and multi-nuanced mimicry, and he plays all sorts of charming little incidents with great wit and visual flair.

One of Etaix’s best features, Yo Yo is deliberately casual, fragmented and loose. Artifice rules: the movie serves as a display of incomparable originality and singular virtuosity.

Singularly beautifully shot in stylized black-and-white by Jean Boffety, the film relies on a mastery of the sight gags, which keeps some of the story’s more conventional and entimental elements at bay.

The film was released in French cinemas on February 19, 1965. It later competed at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, where it received the OCIC Award.

It was released in the US on February 28, 1967 through Magna Pictures.


Pierre Étaix as Yoyo / the millionaire
Claudine Auger as Isolina
Philippe Dionnet as Yoyo as a child
Luce Klein as the equestrienne
Siam as a clown
Pipo as a clown
Dario as a clown
Mimile as a clown
Martine de Breteuil as Madame de Briac
Roger Trapp as Leroy


Directed by Pierre Étaix
Written by Jean-Claude Carrière and Pierre Étaix
Produced by Paul Claudon
Cinematography Jean Boffety
Edited by Henri Lanoë
Music by Jean Paillaud

Production companies: CAPAC Madeleine Films

Distributed by Carlotta Films

Release date: February 19, 1965

Running time: 95 minutes
Language French

Critical Status:

The film’s largely harsh reviews affected Étaix’s next film, As Long as You’ve Got Your Health.

However, Jean-Luc Godard included Yo Yo on his top-ten list of the best films of 1965.

Upon seeing the picture, Jerry Lewis asked to meet its creator. The two comedians, though limited by language barriers, made impressions of each other’s routines and improvised clown acts together. (Lewis later cast Étaix in his own (unreleased) film The Day the Clown Cried.)


TCM showed the movie on October 25, 2021.