Top 100 Films #71 – Playtime (1967)

 

playtime-main-review#71. Playtime (1967)
Directed by: Jacques Tati
Written by: Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange, Art Buchwald
Starring: Jacques Tati

Playtime is French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s magnum opus – a truly indescribable experience, and one of the most memorable films I’ve ever seen. The ambitious comedy film almost exclusively uses visual and sound gags rather than relying on jokes – the only dialogue heard in Playtime is essentially treated as background noise.  Tati’s film sees his famous character Monsieur Hulot (played by the director himself) lost in modern Paris.  He encounters a young American tourist named Barbara throughout his day, with the two coming into contact on six separate occasions.  These instances are the basis of Playtime, as the film is mainly comprised of six long, ambitious, and hilarious sequences.  We see Hulot in an airport, in an office building, at a trade exhibition, in a block of apartments, a fancy restaurant, and finally in a carousel of cars on the way back to the airport.  Monsieur Hulot seems to bring a subtle chaos with him everywhere he goes, which is where Tati’s famous brand of humor kicks in. Playtime is hilarious from the get-go, but not in a way I’ve ever been able to appreciate before this film.  Tati employs a mixture of slapstick and absurd comedy in a way that makes viewers so excited to see what’s going to come next. Every sequence is more ridiculous than the one before it, building up to Playtime’s incredible restaurant sequence.  The restaurant portion of the film is the longest sequence, and yet somehow manages to never grow tiring or boring. Every gag hits in the biggest way possible, and takes advantage of the remarkable set design.  Tati created an ambitious set called Tativille, which is where most of his film takes place.  The design of every single set shows a remarkable attention to detail, with most of the film’s gags originating from objects on the interiors of the stage.  Tati uses the ambitious platform to deliver some stinging – but subtle – criticism of modern urbanity, which too few films are willing to tackle anymore.  Playtime is a once in a lifetime film that we may never see duplicated – it really is that special.  Nothing comes close to Jacques Tati’s unique sense of humor, and it’s unfortunate that we may never see another Tati in our lifetime.

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