(G. Smalley contributed additional commentary and background to this article.)
“Playtime is a film that comes from another planet, where they make films differently.”–attributed to Francois Truffaut
FEATURING: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek
PLOT: A nearly plotless “day in the life” of 1967 Paris: a group of American tourists arrive in the city, but instead of visiting the monuments they are taken to a complex of skyscrapers to shop. Meanwhile, Monsieur Hulot is trying to keep an appointment, but gets lost in a mazelike building in the same downtown complex. After business hours, everyone converges on a restaurant on its opening night for a chaotic celebration as the building falls apart around them.
- The third of four features in which Jacques Tati played the affable, bumbling Monsieur Hulot.
- Playtime was in production for three years; the downtown sets were constructed by hundreds of workers and were nicknamed “Tativille” among the crew.
- The film was incredibly expensive to make and Tati took out personal loans to finance it; it was a disappointment at the box office and he went into bankruptcy, giving away Playtime‘s rights in the process.
- Tati shot the film in 70mm (which was capable of a 2.20:1 aspect ratio, one of the widest formats), and initially insisted the film be screened only in that format in venues with stereophonic sound, despite the fact that very few theaters could meet these specifications. (Partially for this reason, the movie was not screened at all in the United States until 1972). He later relented and allowed 35mm prints to be struck.
- Humorist and newspaper columnist Art Buchwald wrote the English dialogue for Tati.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Many people will best remember Hulot’s view from the second-floor view of a factory-like job site composed of a maze of cubicles—a workplace prophecy that’s come true. We chose a scene—one of three in the film—where straggling Barbara opens a door to one of her tour’s commercialized sightseeing destinations, only to see the Eiffel Tower (or the Arc de Triomphe, or the Sacré Coeur) perfectly reflected in the plate glass. These shots express Tati’s theme of the disappearance of culture under the ugliness of modernity, while retaining the wistful hopefulness that is characteristic of his work.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Faux Hulots; cubicle labyrinth; doorman with no door
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Playtime is about the alienating, isolating influence technology has on human beings. It’s not the standard elements of plot, narrative, character development or dialogue that pulls an equally alienated audience into this unfurling drama, but the careful choreography of hapless humans navigating a barely recognizable hypermodern Paris. Play Time is a sort of anti-Brazil.
Short Clip from Playtime
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