Jacques Tati: Playtime’s Not Over

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Published December 19, 2008

 

There are some films to which the 70-mm format doesn’t add much—seeing them in deluxe projection isn’t a significantly different experience from watching them on DVD, or in a dozen parts on YouTube. Jacques Tati’s Playtime is not one of those films. In many ways, the film is its own universe—Playtime‘s colossal set was nicknamed “Tativille” because of its huge scale. For all the film’s immensity, though, Tati lost nothing of his sense of detail—each of the film’s shots is filled to the brim with things to look at. You could watch it five times and have a different experience each time.

Tati was the French master of the sight gag—gentle, visually-based humor with very little dialogue to “make it easy” for the viewer. Don’t get the wrong idea, this isn’t Mr. Bean; for one thing, the gags are more intelligent and more rapid-fire. For another, Tati’s protagonist, M. Hulot, is about a thousand times as personable as Bean. In Playtime, M. Hulot is a tourist in a rapidly-modernizing Paris, and—well, that’s about it. There’s not so much a plot as a collage of impressions. The clip above, in which a window washer turns an ordinary bus into a roller coaster, is perfectly Paris and perfectly Tati—but your computer screen doesn’t do the movie justice.


Playtime screens on January 5 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Tickets are available at the Walter Reade Theater box office or online at www.filmlinc.com.