Playtime

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #112: Jacques Tati’s Play­time.

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M. Hulot is back, at least part-time, for his last appear­ance in cin­e­ma. Play­time con­tin­ues Tati’s tra­di­tion of sat­i­riz­ing the mun­dane, but unlike M. Hulot’s Hol­i­day, this time the focus is on moder­ni­ty rather than leisure time. Filmed near­ly 15 years after Hol­i­day, Tati has pol­ished Hulot’s man­ner­isms and now makes him work smarter, not hard­er when he is on-screen. In fact, there are faux-Hulot’s through­out the film, con­fus­ing both the spec­ta­tor and var­i­ous char­ac­ters in the film itself.

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This sort of refine­ment increas­es the enjoy­a­bil­i­ty fac­tor of the film, but it is hard to dis­cov­er this fact until the very end.. There is quite a bit of slap­stick involved, but it is so restrained as to be almost uncom­fort­able; the sound of hard shoes on a hard floor, the irra­tional mod­u­la­tions of ven­ti­la­tion sys­tems, the unin­tel­li­gi­ble mur­murs of smalltalk, all com­bines to make ambi­ent sound its own char­ac­ter in the film. The whole envi­ron­ment of in mod­ern city life cre­ates unin­ten­tion­al hilar­i­ty after unin­ten­tion­al hilar­i­ty, and part of what strength­ens this aspect is that none of the peo­ple in the film notice that some­thing fun­ny is hap­pen­ing; a facet that was not present in M. Hulot’s Hol­i­day.

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Every per­son in the film seems obsessed with being as mod­ern [and to Tati, as ridicu­lous] as pos­si­ble. There is an empha­sis on pro­to­col, fol­low­ing the direc­tions of the mod­ern man­ner and devices, when the old ways would be faster and less prone to con­fu­sion. At one point Hulot wan­ders into a trade show of new inven­tions and they are pos­si­bly the stu­pid­est things ever invent­ed. [e.g. a broom with head­lights, a silent door [which sounds alright until you need to slam it for effect]]. The sales­per­sons earnest­ly dis­play their Ion­ic col­umn trash cans and pan­tomime their use, and there are ubiq­ui­tous leather chairs that act like whoopee cush­ions when­ev­er some­one so much as touch­es them. But, all this is “mod­ern” and so over­looked by peo­ple doing their best to appear mod­ern them­selves.

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This is infu­ri­at­ing, and it all comes to a head in an inter­minable sequence at a night club that has opened even though con­struc­tion on it hasn’t fin­ished. In their haste to be mod­ern they’ve neglect­ed com­mon sense on every lev­el. The chairs ruin people’s cloth­ing, they only had enough food for 27 peo­ple, the kitchen is com­plete­ly unfin­ished, and the neon sign directs the bounced right back inside. Thank­ful­ly every­one thinks this is just part of the restaurant’s mod­ern ambi­ence and play along until the band gets frus­trat­ed and leaves. After this cli­max the peo­ple start act­ing like real peo­ple for a change and the atmos­phere of the film ceas­es to be as bland in col­or [rem­i­nis­cent of Le samouraï]and affect as it has for most of the film. It ends with a vibrant release of col­or, a round­about becomes a carousel, and we get a feel­ing that there is some­thing sub­lime about being so ridicu­lous.

Oh yeah, I almost for­got to men­tion the ref­er­ence to Godard’s Breath­less that takes place in the film. You couldn’t miss it if you tried.

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Cri­te­ri­on Essay by Jonathan Rosen­baum.
Roger Ebert Review.
• Details on the recon­struc­tion of the 70mm print.
• Sens­es of Cin­e­ma arti­cle on Tati.
• Cin­e­mat­ic Reflec­tions arti­cle on the film.
Five clips from the film on YouTube.