Playtime (1967)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Satire, Urban Comedy  |   Run Time - 155 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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A miraculous achievement by any stretch of the imagination, Playtime was the movie that both sank Jacques Tati's career and cemented his critical reputation. Famously fastidious and exercising complete creative control (only Robert Bresson among contemporary French directors had as much authority over his projects), Tati spent nearly a decade between his previous feature, Mon Oncle, and this folly of a movie. Set in a hysterically hyperbolic modernized Paris, Playtime plops down Tati's iconic Monsieur Hulot in a bewildering sea of glass and steel. Ostensibly a commentary on modern life and the homogenization of urban culture, the movie resists glib conclusions. Initially, Hulot's wanderings seem to hint at a viciously satirical subtext. The movie's commercialized Paris is seen as an alienating, artificial place. As the day wears on, however, the city -- and the movie -- becomes warmer, more ebullient. The good humor spills over at a climactic party at a ritzy restaurant. Packed with movement and chatter, the anarchic sequence is the ultimate expression of Tati's dictum of "democracy" within the frame. The complex and rigorous mise-en-scéne gives the attentive eye several gags to choose from; foregrounds, middle, and backgrounds teem with movement. It's a radical approach that pays tribute to the audience's ability to see and think for itself. For a coda, Tati picked an appropriately ecstatic showstopper: the giddiest traffic jam ever recorded on film. The ideological flipside of the apocalyptic bumper-to-bumper freeway in Godard's Weekend, another landmark movie from 1967, Playtime's carnivalesque gridlock is the perfect culminating metaphor for a movie that sees the modern world as a source of both wonder and bemusement.