Playtime (Jacques Tati, 1967)
Monsieur Hulot has to contact an American official in Paris, but he gets lost in the maze of modern architecture which is filled with the latest technical gadgets. Caught in the tourist invasion, Hulot roams around Paris with a group of American tourists, causing chaos in his usual manner.
Tati is a quiet observer of the evolution of societies. There’s not much plot to talk about here just as any other Jacques Tati film. First you have Tati’s Monsieur Hulot, a simple but innocent charming man that seems to be from another time. Let’s say Keaton and Chaplin’s time if we must place him into a time table. Throughout the films, Hulot has been on a holiday, visiting family, and now visiting Paris to contact an American official. For Tati, every scene is a set up of the everyday life and he takes Hulot into those ironies, aberrations, and modernisations to point the fact that after all we forgot about the simplicity of life and the little common things that makes our daily moments.
In his own way, Tati’s humor is subtle and almost invisible to the modern day viewer. His detached approach makes the audience wander like Hulot within the grey sets and the urban atrocities of the brutalism movement of the 1960’s. The structure of Playtime is very architectural and sticks to Mies van der Rohe’s motto: less is more. This is a very keen comedy and a masterpiece in the same vein that the two aforementioned greats of comedy Keaton and Chaplin would have been proud of birthing.
Prior to my first watching of Playtime I only saw Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, which I liked in parts but not in its ensemble. With a little distance both films take more and more depth and I kind of learn to love Holiday. On the other hand, Playtime was an instant hit for me and a much stronger work from its father. The accuracy of Tati’s observation and the sheer brightness of the situations and the whole goodbye to the ancient world places Playtime not just amongst the greatest comedies of all time but with the greatest films of all time. It’s also a shy hello to the new world that was on the verge to hatch with the end of the 1960’s.
Moreover, this is a very unique film that can’t really be compared to anything that was released back in 1967 and to anything that Tati made either. The more someone discovers about Tati the more his films make perfect sense and their sensibility fells like a comfy outfit that you want to revisit because their message can’t be digested in its whole without repeated viewings. Highly recommended.