Headline: A brilliant and hilarious critique of modern society.
Synopsis: Monsieur Hulot curiously wanders around a high-tech Paris, paralleling a trip with a group of American tourists. Meanwhile, a nightclub/restaurant prepares its opening night, but it’s still under construction. (IMDB)
Starring: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, Rita Maiden
Writers: Jacques Tati and Jacques Lagrange
Director: Jacques Tati
Running Time: 115mins
Jacques Tati did just a small number of films in his career, but they are all excellent. Mon Oncle, in particular, is a real jam and deservedly won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film. Playtime is equally genius, a real treat from this amazing French director.
Tati had a persona on screen, Monsieur Hulot, and it was a special one. Hulot was completely different from other comedy characters created by actors such as Jerry Lewis or Peter Sellers. He wasn’t the one responsible for the actions/reactions, he wasn’t generating all the jokes; he was mostly a spectator, simply witnessing all the craziness happening around him. Tati’s humor was subtle and sophisticated, in a lot of times he was only commenting on the greater picture and the jokes were not obvious at all.
There is not much of a story here; something fairly common in Mr. Hulot’s films. He just wanders around a very gray and modern Paris with no real purpose. The script is almost non-existent and there is no linearity to be found in the story. Though there is so much happening in the film and its complexity level is unbelievable; it takes watching the film multiples times to finally take a hold of everything that happens on screen. Each corner of the frame provides different information and completely independent mis-en-scenes. Also, if you are paying attention to one thing you are most certainly missing another. But it doesn’t matter, because probably both are hilarious in their own way.
The most impressive thing with Playtime is how current it still is. Tati was always a savvy chronicler of our dehumanization and his acute point of view was on spot here. The film was all shot in studio and the sets are unbelievable; an entire city was built on the lot, a city where everything is modern, all the buildings and street corners look exactly the same and there is no space for individuality at all, which is the biggest visual sign of our mechanization.
Tati didn’t stop there: all the characters are so preoccupied and absorbed with their own lives they can even notice what’s happening around them, like a glass door that is shattered to pieces and people keep waiting for the doorman to open it. They can’t even establish a cohesive conversation with others since they can only talk about themselves; they only function in monologue mode. They are so eager to embrace that modernity, they are so invested in looking cool that they can’t even realize that that modernity doesn’t mean a thing if they are all stuck in a horrible traffic jam driving in circles around a piazza and the only ones who actually have any sort of mobility are the ones riding their bicycles. Is there anything more modern than that? This is 50 years old movie!
The brightest aspect of Tati’s craft is the way he turns this fierce critique of our lifestyle in such a fun and entertaining experience, filled with love for its characters and situations. The film balances its dark point of view of humanity with such a delicious staging. Everything is hilarious here, from the fact that in every moment there is something pretty funny happening at least in the background and that Monsieur Hulot is simply an adorable character. Despite all the coldness in this world, the fantastic universe of Mr. Hulot is filled with warmth, one eager to break out of those industrial barriers.
Maybe that happened because, in a way, that mechanical and cold-hearted world was still distant to become a full reality; that gray future was still looked at with grace and a certain dose of humorous curiosity, almost as if there was a certainty that mankind would come together and realize what was happening before it was too late and change course. Unfortunately, it all became true but it doesn’t mean there’s no time to change.
Finally, something has to be noted: the restaurant sequence, what a totally sensational thing it was – and what a nightmare it must have been to shoot it. It took two months just to shoot that sequence – Playtime took 3 years to be concluded and was a total failure when it was released, crashing Tati’s career. Later, the film was rediscovered and gained the status it deserved. This film is a must-watch/re-watch at any time.
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