Old 07-26-2009, 03:19 PM
Jacques Tati's Playtime

Playtime (1967)

Jacques Tati is back with his celebrated character, Hulot, in "Playtime," the third in the series after "M. Hulot's Holiday" and "Mon Oncle." After my review of "Mon Oncle," it became no secret that I have never really been a fan of Tati's Hulot films due to their minimal plots and mostly dull situations, but the first two films had one thing going for them, something that the third film decides to leave behind.

"Playtime," like the previous films, mostly follows around Hulot (Jacques Tati) as he wanders around various locations. This time, Hulot is in Paris. He stumbles through several different incidents and locations, including an office building, a furniture expo, and eventually a restaurant. Also prominently featured in the film are tour groups as they visit the same locations as Hulot, and, of course, knowing Hulot from the first two films, wherever he goes, disaster is sure to follow.

The first two films of the series were not bad, though I was not quite able to recommend them, but "Playtime" takes the series to a new low. "M. Hulot's Holiday" and "Mon Oncle" had at least tried to develop plots, no matter how minimal they turned out to be. "Playtime" completely forgoes a plot in exchange for a film that does nothing but meander from scene one to its eventual end two hours later.

There just isn't very much here to constitute a film at all. Aside from the lack of plot, none of the situations that Hulot gets himself into are remotely funny, or even amusing. Again, like the previous films, it feels as though he's trying to pull off the kind of humor that Rowan Atkinson would make popular with his Mr. Bean character, except that Atkinson would do it much more successfully.

The one good thing that the previous films had going for them was Hulot himself. The character is quite charming and delightful. He's the kind of character that becomes interesting to watch. Hulot himself is what had saved the first two films from being a complete disaster, but this was because his charm had been allowed to come through loud and clear in the bright, cheerful mood of the films.

But then there came "Playtime," which is set in a world of dark, dreary colors that never allows Hulot's charm to come through. The mood and atmosphere of the film made it feel as though Hulot was always at a great distance, not allowing the audience to make a connection with him in his dreary world, so as he continued to wander through incident after incident, there was no reason to care.

Another thing that goes horribly wrong for "Playtime" is cutting back on Hulot's character in the film. For the first half, he's around quite a bit, except for the times that the film is concentrating on the tour groups. Then the second half takes a disastrous turn as it begins to focus on the opening of a new restaurant.

After the film had been concentrating on this for around ten minutes or so, I was beginning to wonder if this was meant as a kind of intermission as the film felt it had been going on for quite some time, but the scene kept going, leaving behind Hulot for nearly 20 minutes. When Hulot does finally arrive, he is ignored for the most part as the film tries to concentrate on everyone, while not letting us get to know any of them, once again leading to scenes that continued to meander.

I was not surprised to learn that this film was a commercial failure, yet I am surprised to see that many people consider it a "masterpiece" or a "work of art," when, truthfully, there is just not a whole lot to this film. If Tati meant it as a view of the world, then are we to take his view as cold and distant, with the title merely becoming ironic? Who knows? What is for certain is that by cutting down on Hulot's presence, the filmmakers made the film fall apart, much like the restaurant where Hulot is but an insignificant speck amongst many. 2/4 stars.
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Old 07-26-2009, 09:07 PM
Films don't require plots all the time. Some of the best movies ever made don't have formal stories. This is one of the greatest of all films, one that is unlike any other I have ever seen. It is superbly crafted, and its humor derives from scenes so populated by extras all doing something funny that the viewer is forced to follow scenes in his own subjective way, and the film opens itself up to numerous viewings. It is the only movie where the extras as a collective is the star. One of my all time favorite films. Shame you weren't open to its originality.
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Old 07-26-2009, 09:14 PM
I never said films do require plots all the time, but if the film isn't going to have one, then it certainly needs something to make up for it, which this film didn't have. As for being open to its originality, I always watch everything with an open mind, so to say that I'm not open to it is absurd, and just because something is original, doesn't always make it good.
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Old 07-26-2009, 10:55 PM
I mean that you didn't like the aspects of the film that made it original, and that's true, based on what you wrote. And the film makes up for lack of plot with beautiful cinematography, masterful command of extras, and brilliant maximization of the imagery that can be recorded within the camera frame.
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Old 07-26-2009, 11:37 PM
I agree that the cinematography is quite stunning. The two stars that I gave it were awarded because of its technical achievements. I was actually shocked to learn that the entire location was one gigantic set! However, while there was a command of the extras and a maximization of the imagery (mainly those very extras), they weren't doing anything of note to justify an entire two hour movie.
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