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Oh, Jacques Tati. How I love you so...

  • Aug 6, 2011
**** out of ****

Brilliant is the only word that can truly describe one of the only films I've ever seen to lack the ability to be labeled with a genre. Jacques Tati's "Playtime", his third Mr. Hulot feature, is not within a genre. It mixes comedy with drama with sheer individuality. It is a film about conformism that refuses to conform, and for that, I admire its freakish charm.

However, the film is something much, much more. Like "Mon Oncle" and "Mr. Hulot's Holiday", I suppose the film is intended as a satire of modern technology and how we'd probably suffocate ourselves if we couldn't apply it to everyday life. There are some people in "Playtime" who question the advancements in technology, while everyone else just stands there and lets it take control of their existence. Mr. Hulot, however, isn't neither of those kinds of people. He does not mind technology; he does not mind anything. He just doesn't know how to apply technology to HIS life; although he's sure not afraid to try.

The film is essentially broken up into a few prolonged scenarios. The first one involves Hulot (Jacques Tati) arriving in a futuristic Paris along with a couple Americans on a tour. I guess Hulot isn't new to the place, but he's surely confused when an office feels more like a maze and apartments are reduced to the size of cubicles. Hulot means well, but that doesn't matter; the world doesn't feel the same.

What surprised me here was the fact that Hulot isn't there for the entire film. The film takes its precious little time in introducing us to the modernized city and how it has changed for the better or for the worse, as well as the people who are visiting the area. The tourists, in particular, are an interesting group; confused, but nevertheless conforming.

The film is a happy, satirical, often times funny one. I felt good while watching it. But reading about the production and aftermath of it made me somewhat sad. This was Tati's most expensive production; the most expensive in France at the time of its production and release. It had little success in France and America alike; thus forcing Tati to file for bankruptcy. Poor guy. He just wanted to make a fun, big-budget movie with tall buildings and impressive gadgetry; and he succeeded. But others, I guess, didn't see the appeal in the film. At least now they can, because we are accustomed to the world that Hulot never was.

They say that this film is the director's masterpiece. I do not, in any way, beg to differ; but I think they are somewhat false when they say that. I have loved every single Jacques Tati/Mr. Hulot film so far. And I don't think that I will ever NOT love them. They are delightful, intelligent, witty and satirical comedies that are as relatable as they are, in their satire, sadly true. "Playtime" is indeed a bigger, far more epic film; but it's just as great as the other Hulot misadventures. This one may be more appealing to a wider audience, yes, but really; there's not much of a difference. But that is what I love about it.

Paris is not beautiful in "Playtime". It is mechanical, and completely so. There are many skyscrapers, and people seem to have lost the feeling of the magic that accompanied the place one day, but that was in the past, and people are in the present/future, and they don't exactly want out. What I liked about the film, when it came to Paris, was the fact that people often stopped to talk about what they thought of this "new Paris". I'd much rather go to the current one than this electronic hell-hole. I don't suppose it's a bad place, and Jacques Tati neither loathes technology nor loves it, as I would presume; but the place just feels boring and even bland after a while. But as I thought more and more about the film, I came up with a theory; that was the intent. With Tati being the cinematic magician that he is, I'm not surprised; I'm spellbound.

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August 10, 2011
Great review and a fine point-of-view. I recommend you see The Illusionist soon. It's based on a screenplay Tati wrote in the Fifties and drawn by the people who made Triplets of Belview (Bellville?). Its an odd, beautiful, amusing and poignant movie with much of Tati in it (including the lead character)..
More Playtime reviews
review by . July 10, 2011
Whether it's a masterpiece or a failure or both, Playtime remains an essential Tati movie
Why was Playtime a failure, sending Jacques Tati into bankruptcy and eventually costing him control over his life's work of films? His previous film, My Uncle, had been a commercial and artistic success. M. Hulot's Holiday and Jour de Fete had gained Tati world-wide recognition and respect. He was recognized as one of the few authentic geniuses of film.       Watch Playtime and I think you'll find the answer. Tati in his earlier films placed Hulot in situations …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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