With Playtime – the 3rd in his 4-film series, following Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle, and preceding Trafic – the mercurial French maverick Jacques Tati created his grandest masterpiece while also jeopardizing his filmmaking career in the process. In this dazzling and insanely uncompromising existential and cinematic, Tati concocted a trenchant, darkly funny and subtly lamenting satire on the absurdist extent of the irrepressible invasion of technology, urbanization and modernity into our lives. The resulting work, achieved through elaborately conceived and exorbitantly expensive sets known as ‘Tativille’ (which caused severe budget overruns and production delays), painted a dystopian picture of a near-future Paris. The ravishingly photographed film – shot in muted color palettes and making exquisite use of reflections and visual deceptions – begins with an extraordinary low-key section with Tati’s indelible and bemused protagonist, Hulot, trapped in a maze-like, hyper-modernist all-glass office space trying, in futility, to get in touch with the man (Georges Montant) he’s come to meet. However that, and a couple of subsequent idiosyncratic sections apart – wandering across a bizarre Trade Exhibition, and getting invited into a ludicrously impersonal studio apartment of an old friend – Hulot became almost a side-character in the fabulous restaurant sequence that comprised nearly the entire second half. An upscale restaurant, which isn’t really ready for its opening night, formed the melting pot for all the key characters introduced in prior sequences – including a wide-eyed tourist (Barbara Dennek) who wants to capture the real joys of Paris and who Hulot develops a soft spot for – as it spectacularly falls apart, albeit oblivious to the gregarious and intoxicated patrons swirling in mad anarchy, and provided for an array of hilarious and ingenious gags.
p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review of the film can be found here.
Director: Jacques Tati
Genre: Comedy/Satire/Avant-Garde Film