[LAND OF MILK AND HONEY screens Thursday June 27th at 7:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
The problem with movies that are completely of their time and place is that they can easily lose much of their impact and meaning over time and in different locales. For instance Pierre Etaix's final film, the 1971 documentary LAND OF MILK AND HONEY, requires some knowledge of the period of civil unrest that occurred in France in May of 1968, including the largest general strike ever attempted in that country. The contrast between this volatile period and the often blasé attitude of the vacationers Etaix interviews a few moths after is the crux for much of the film's satirical humor. So if you want to get the full impact and, like this reviewer, you're not much of a student of French history, you might want to at least check out Wikipedia to get a little background info before watching.
Etaix visits beaches, campgrounds, and a singing contest among other locales. At each spot he interviews people young and old with a wide range of ideological beliefs, asking them their opinions on violence, eroticism, advertising, and the merits of landing on the moon (fresh in the news at the time this was shot) among other thing. LAND OF MILK AND HONEY does a good job of preserving for posterity some idea of what regular people thought about these topics, and it's not surprising to find a mix of responses ranging from ahead of their time to the reactionary. Visually, the film also records what vacation time was like in late sixties France, and if what we see was indeed the norm, the crowded beaches and campgrounds don't look like a whole lot of fun, while the amateur would-be pop stars at the singing contest show that people have been deluding themselves about their musical talent long before American Idol ever aired.
As for the satire, even with the proper context it lacks not just the good nature but the humor Etaix displayed in his previous films. It feels a bit like one of Sacha Baron Cohen's films in which the joke is on the unsuspecting people being filmed and interviewed. It's nowhere near as mean spirited or vulgar (or funny), but the similarities are there nonetheless. In the end the film's greatest value is as a time capsule of late sixties France, with much of its entertainment value either having evaporated over time or simply not translating well outside of its native country. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars