My 100 favourite films. Entry #25: Playtime.

Playtime (1967)
directed by Jacques Tati
starring Jacques Tati
country: france
genre: comedy

Visuals: 10
Writing: 8
Everyday watchability: 6

It seems kind of funny to call this film economical -- considering how much money was spent just to create its enormous sets -- but that's exactly what this film is. Clocking at just over two hours (the original version was 155 minutes), it feels as if there isn't more than a shot a minute. Of course, there doesn't need to be. Each shot is so carefully composed and each setting so meticulously organized that all the information we need is there in the frame. And it's a lot of information. Things are happening in the foreground, in the background and everywhere in between. It's impossible to see it all in one viewing, or two, or three.

Some viewers might be bored if they only watch "the action," as in those characters that seem to be at the crux of a particular scene. But rather than simply watching one set of characters, the eye must wander from one area of the screen to another in an attempt to catch everything that happens. Tati is a master of the subtle joke: a toy airplane slowly melts in the background while characters complain of the heat; a travel agency containing travel posters for different countries, where all the posters features the same modern building.

Builders spent three years constructing Tati's sets, and it was time well spent. The movie shows a Paris of glass facades and transparent buildings. The lack of privacy is seen as modern and even futuristic as opposed to invasive, which it most definitely is. In all films, we are the viewer, with no true interaction between us and the media. (A film plays for us, and we watch and listen, with no control over the outcome. We can scream and yell and tell characters not to go upstairs all we want, but it doesn't change anything.) In Playtime, however, we're the voyeur, watching lives from a distance, through plates of glass and over shoulders. These are spectacles put up for our amusement; things meant to be seen but left unencumbered by outside influences.

Playtime follows two other films starring the same character of Hulot, Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, Les (M. Hulot's Holiday) and Mon Oncle. These other films also deal with the "advancement" of the modern world and are definitely worth checking out. But Playtime is truly Tati's opus, with the grandest settings and the fullest expression of idea. It's true that nobody makes films like this any more. I doubt that anyone could.


1 comment(s).:

September 17, 2008 at 6:41 AM Timber Beast said...

As a film barbarian, all I can say is I have never heard of it.