This is going to start off very humble braggy so please bear with me…
There is only one thing I regret when I went to the city of Paris. While walking down the Champ-Elysees I discovered a small movie theater tucked in an alley way. In big posters it was advertising a restoration re-release of Jacques Tati’s 1967 classic Playtime. Now at that point I decided to not watch this restoration and went about walking the rest of the city for the day. I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and walked along the Seine River. But to this day I still feel pretty bummed I didn’t take a few hours out of my day to sit and watch Playtime. I saw it through a Netflix rental on my tiny TV years ago and it captivated me on such a small scale. I can only imagine what a 4K, movie theater sized release could’ve done to me.
If there is one way to describe a Tati film to anyone who hasn’t seen his work the easiest way to say is he is a French Buster Keaton. His character, Monsieur Hulot, gets into a lot of wacky situations that usually involve of the slapstick/physical comedy variety. But what makes this film of Tati so different is that this is more of a visual flourish rather than a straight up comedy. You see, Tati was so in control of his work that he felt the need to create an entire city to make this film possible. So this isn’t just a set: He created an entire Metropolis to make this film happen.
This whole film is a critique of, what was then in 1967, how modern the world was getting. So we get endless set pieces of ‘new’ office buildings, modern decor, and how the elite party at night. While there is a lot of instances where Hulot mistakes certain objects as something else or, again, physical comedy is to be had. But a lot of the film is a critique on how insane the world is getting. These office buildings are a labyrinth to walk around, new apartments barely show any privacy, and everything tries too hard to be clean. It would look like a damn dystopia in a lot of ways if Tati wasn’t poking so much fun over it.
It’s the overall beauty in the frame though that gets me with this film. So much of this film has to be timed perfectly it must have been an absolute nightmare to stage. Let alone making your own city; the fact that every scene has a timed sound joke or visual cue is just impressive. Movies like this inspires me but also depresses the hell out of me cause nothing I make will ever look this perfect. Even the color scheme is on point and the most mundane views such as cubicles are a sight to behold. I mean look at the chaos Tati provides in this dinner party scene below. How on Earth did he do this so fluidly?
So yes, call me a spoiled brat that I didn’t get to see a movie in Paris. But if you ever get a chance to watch Playtime I urge anyone to get a resorted (aka Criterion) version and see it on the biggest screen possible. I bet even the most average of moviegoers will find something to love about this. Maybe you’ll laugh at how outdated the technology is even though it is suppose to be futuristic. Sadly not even Tati realized boxed televisions were going to outstay its welcome.