Friday, 22 January 2016

I've Just Seen: Playtime (1967)

Playtime (1967)

Director: Jacques Tati

Tati's films rarely induce loud laughter; the most is a chuckle, or chortle. Generally the reaction is a wry smile, and an 'Oh, that is clever' thought. Playtime is considered Tati's best film (and is coincidentally his last). While I don't entirely agree with that opinion (Monsieur Hulot's Holiday tickled my fancy the most), I can understand why others think so.

There is no arguing with the scope of the world Tati has created here. The sets are huge, placing us in 'modern' Paris, and we only know it is Paris because we occasionally see reflections of the Sacre Coeur and Effiel Tower in the glass doors of the modern buildings. Tati is an expert at using spaces and architecture in his comedy; for me it reaches its zenith in the scene of identical apartments with their open plan living spaces (they essential live in twin glass boxes). The two families appear to watch each other living their banal lives (though really it is their televisions). I couldn't help but be reminded of reality television, and the desire to see one's self reflected on screen.

The funniest sequence in the film is the opening night of a restaurant which is so new that the kitchen is not finished, and floor tiles have fun sticking to the shoes of patrons. Of course, Tati's Hulot brings his own brand of chaos into the place, turning the pretensious establishment into a place of spontaneity and joy.

Modernity and its narrow-minded blandness was Tati's favourite target, and this is no more clear than in Playtime. While a long film, and one without a strong central narrative to grip onto, it is a great demonstration of the power of visual comedy, and the important of sets and timing in creating gags.


  1. I'm with you--I like Mr. Hulot's Holiday the best of the Tati films I've seen, but Playtime has its charms. When something is plotless, it needs something more to recommend it, and Playtime has a little bit of a message and a good deal of comedy.

    1. Very true. And it takes the message and draws every ounce of comedy out of it.