Thursday, September 25, 2014
2014 Blind Spot Series: Playtime
Directed and starring Jacques Tati and written by Tati and Jacques Lagrange with additional English dialogue by Art Buchwald, Playtime is the story of Monsieur Hulot’s encounter with the modern world and how he and various people become baffled by this new version of Paris. The film is an ambitious story that explores Tati’s fascination with modernism and drawbacks where a famous city‘s identity nearly becomes extinct. Also starring Barbara Dennek as an American tourist. Playtime is an absolutely stunning and evocative film from Jacques Tati.
Set in a futuristic version of Paris where many of its landmarks have been replaced by buildings and places where everything sort of looks the same. The film is a look into a world where American tourists arrive into the city of Paris to see everything and be a part of a world that is ever-changing as there’s inventions and all sorts of things where the French tries to keep up with the modern world. It’s a film that explores the fallacy of modernism as the Monsieur Hulot character arrives in the city looking for work where he would stumble into being part of a tourist group as well as encounter old friends who have become accustomed to modern society. Another character in the film that becomes lost in this modern-day Paris is an American tourist who tries to find something that recalls the Paris of old such as the Eiffel Tower.
It’s a film that portrays this futuristic world as quite cold as well as baffling where old men try to keep up with the new machines as it would culminate with a restaurant opening that becomes disastrous. The restaurant sequence is one of six major sequences that Jacques Tati and co-writer Jacques Lagrange would create as the entire film takes place in the span of an entire day. Much of it would have the Monsieur Hulot character be portrayed as a supporting character where the emphasis of the story is about these encounters with new inventions, new buildings, and everything that is and feels new but also very alienating. Especially as Barbara wants to see landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral as they’re only seen in reflections from glass doors. There isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film as it’s spoken in English and French while there is also a very loose structure in the script so that Tati and Lagrange would focus on the visuals which is a key part to the story.
Tati’s direction is truly gigantic not just in its scope but also in the world that he presents as the film is shot in grand 70mm film. Much of it is presented in grand attention to detail where it is about a world that is new and futuristic. At times, it’s a world that is very enthralling and full of unique quirks but it’s also overwhelming as well as quite cold in the way it looks. There’s very little color to these buildings as Tati creates some elaborate moments such as Hulot trying to attend a meeting where he ends up being part of a tourist group for a trade show. It’s a moment in the film that requires not just these massive wide shots in its 70mm presentation but a moment that plays into how eerie it can be even though it’s told in a humorous fashion. Some of these humorous moments involve Hulot and some of his doppelgangers that he doesn’t know about often causing trouble without really knowing it. Especially as Hulot is baffled by his surroundings where the meeting he was supposed to have is often delayed due to the emergence of tourists and other things.
The direction is also unique in its approach to framing from the way the buildings are shot in certain angles as if to display how similar these buildings look whether it’s shot in parallel angles or in the background. The direction also has Tati doing a lot of things where there could be something happening in the background while something else is happening in the foreground. Even as it would involve scenes where there’s certain precision to the choreography in some parts of the film to play into this strange world that is considered a modern-day metropolis. The climatic restaurant sequence which takes place for much of the film’s second half is quite lavish where it plays into a world that is having a hard time keeping up with the new world. Still, there’s elements of the old world that looms in the film where it plays into the fallacy of modernism in ways that are quite humorous but also melancholic. Overall, Tati creates a very intoxicating yet mesmerizing film about a futuristic world that tries to wow tourists with new wonders as a few struggle with the new world.
Cinematographers Jean Badal and Andreas Winding do amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the way much of the scenes in the daytime look where there are small bits of actual color to the scenes at night for some of its lighting and shadows plus a notable scene inside a café. Editor Gerard Pollicand does excellent work with the editing as it‘s pretty straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the film‘s humor. Production designer Eugene Romand does incredible work with the set design as it is an absolute highlight of the film from the look of the building and its streets to the offices, tourist trades, and the restaurant in such grand detail.
Costume designer Jacques Cottin does nice work with the costumes as it plays to the film‘s look where there is little color with the exception of some of the Hulot doppelgangers as well as the green dress that the American tourist would wear at the restaurant party. The sound work of Jacques Maumont is fantastic for its unique approach to sound mixing where it has some unique sound effects in the way some of the machines work as well as that raucous mix of music and dialogue in the restaurant party. The film’s music by James Campbell and Francis Lemarque is superb for its mixture of low-key, jazz-based music with some traditional French-pieces along with some party music that is played in the film as it’s another of the film’s highlights.
The film’s wonderful cast includes some notable small roles from Georges Montant as Monsieur Giffard who was supposed to meet Hulot at the office building, France Rumilly as a woman selling stylish eyeglasses, Reinhart Kolldehoff as a German businessman, Billy Kearns as a boisterous American businessman at the restaurant party, Nicole Ray as a former singer at the party, Andre Fouche as the restaurant manager, and Yves Barsacq as a friend of Hulot who takes him to his lavish apartment. Barbara Dennek is terrific as an American tourist who arrives to Paris as she tries to capture its old authenticity while being overwhelmed by its new wonders. Finally, there’s Jacques Tati in a marvelous performance as Monsieur Hulot as it’s a sort of a small role where Hulot tries to have a meeting only to endure events and such which has him lost as it’s Tati in one of his funniest yet more somber performances.
Playtime is an outstanding film from Jacques Tati. It’s a film that is grand in not just its visuals and art direction but also captivating in its exploration of modernism and its disconnect with the old world. Especially as it’s a film that is told in such a way that manages to be funny as well as spectacular in its scope. In the end, Playtime is a phenomenal film from Jacques Tati.
Jacques Tati Films: Jour de Fete - Monsiuer Hulot's Holiday - Mon Oncle - Trafic - Parade - The Short Films of Jacques Tati - The Auteurs #49: Jacques Tati
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