The culmination of Tati’s methods of madness, Playtime is the final film of his on the list, and thus also in my little Jacques Tati-a-thon. I think it’s safe to say I’ve saved the best for last in this regard. This is Tati’s “thesis film”, the one where he takes everything he does and everything he’s learned up to that point in his career and shapes a film that encompasses everything he has to offer, at the apex of its creative potential. The film was a monumental undertaking (9 years in the making), one that Tati himself would never fully recover from, but like so many other like examples in film (but not all), the efforts have paid off handsomely.
Again, just like Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, the opening credits’ zany, madcap music sets the mood right off the bat. This time around, however, Mr. Hulot is not the focal point of the film’s humor, but is merely a cog (one of several) that make up the working machinery of the film itself. Sharing the spotlight with Hulot is an American named Barbara; both find themselves lost in the world of modern city life and tourism, which is the focal point of the humor subject of the film. More than anything, Tati’s use of sound effects and foley work provide much of the material to be found here, especially in the earlier segments before we’ve really settled in for the experience. Where Tati really succeeds is how he crams so much into every frame of the film; every second, there is always so many things going on on the screen, all over the place, that multiple viewings are almost required to be able to appreciate everything the film has to offer. That, coupled with the sheer scale of the film, is what’s most impressive; probably 90% of everything we see is all a part of Tati’s massive set, dubbed “Tativille”, built specifically for the film, and which was so costly that Tati’s revenue from the film couldn’t possibly recoup the costs, and Tati had to file for bankruptcy as a result.
Sprinklings of Mon Oncle can be found in the ultra-modern design of the sets like the office buildings and the apartments in the middle portion of the film, and indeed the cubicle-like design of the workers’ areas preceded the actual cubicle of the office building of today, making Playtime more than a little prescient. But still, the offbeat humor of the serendipitous occurrence is the prime entertainment factor to be found in Playtime as it is in all of Tati’s films, and this is almost without argument his masterpiece in that regard. The film does so much right that it can be easy to overlook the fact that some viewers won’t be able to sit through it just because of the lack of weighty substance or actual laughable humor, but those viewers would be missing the point; Tati’s films are a different bread and butter, much like 2001 is not your average science-fiction film. Do your research and know what to expect when you delve into this one, and I highly doubt you’ll walk away disappointed with what Playtime has to offer. I did, and I most certainly wasn’t.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10