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Playtime: The Modern Comedy of Jacques Tati

Saturday, January 23, 2010
5:30 p.m. Playtime
Jacques Tati (France, 1967)

New Print

An apotheosis of modern design as both subject matter and technique, Playtime envisions a sixties Paris as sleek and strange as something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey (released the following year). This is the city as terrarium, a realm of glassy reflections where the distinction between interior and exterior is often not seen, only heard. (As always, Tati’s manipulation of sound is extraordinary.) Everything is at right angles, except M. Hulot, whose ordinariness makes him conspicuous. But he isn’t a protagonist, any more than the American tourists who wander through the film; as Tati said, “Playtime is nobody.” Or everybody. The International Style metropolis that the film observes with wonder was in fact an enormous, carefully constructed set into which the filmmaker sunk every resource he had; a box-office failure, Playtime bankrupted him. Now it is recognized as his masterpiece. The big screen is essential to the experience of the film in all its details, which, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, accrue to “become cosmically funny—comic in a philosophical sense.”

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Tati, Denise Giton, Sophie Tatischeff, J. F. Galland. Photographed by Jean Badal, Andreas Winding. With Tati, Barbara Dennek. (123 mins, Permission Janus/Criterion Collection)

Followed by short:
Night Class (Cours du soir) (Nicolas Rybowski, France, 1966). After a short course in comic mimicry, Tati peels away the perfection of the Playtime set for a startling glimpse of the shabbiness that surrounded it. (30 mins, Permission Film Distribution)

• (Total running time: 153 mins, In French with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From French Ministry of Foreign Affairs)