Tuesday, October 11, 2011
I watched Playtime today, directed by Jacque Tati in 1967. Like his other movies, it has Mr. Hulot in it (that angular looking guy who always has a raincoat, too short pants, and a pipe), although much less so than his other films that I've seen. I really liked the movie - funny, but not laugh-out-loud sort of funny. It's subtle, all strange and fascinating things that happen in the background that always seems so, well, playful and funny. I really enjoy that, though. It's not a conventional comedy but I find it rather delightful.
There isn't really a plot, honestly. Mr. Hulot sort of wanders in and out of different scenes, and bumbles around the cold, barren, glass and metal world that is modern life. There are scenes with tourists, at an office complex, at a trade show, at a restaurant, and more. It sounds sort of boring, but I think it works. It's not any more strange than watching sketch comedy, although this is not as "comedy" laden. It doesn't really need a plot because the film is just about observational comedy. You just need to sit back and focus on everything in these cool looking shots.
This is a seriously cool looking move, too. It's almost in black and white, the colors are so drab and boring. Everything looks the same, from the glass and metal interiors to the boring office cubes. It's almost a silent film, too - there is dialogue, but much of it is mumbled or so quiet (intentionally so) that it's clearly not vital to anything. It feels uniquely modern, but also like a film from a totally different time period. The sets, by the way, are astonishing. It's all sets, too - huge, awesome sets. A lot of it is illusion - some scenes are bolstered with cardboard cutouts and images - but it looks so good that I never really noticed too much. It's just so cool looking. It's not a long movie, and even if you don't like the sense of humor in the film, it's worth checking it out so you can see how amazing the sets are (if you get excited about that sort of thing). Plus, the whole movie is shot without close-ups, so you get to see how huge and brilliant the sets are. And it's in 70mm, so it's so sharp and nice looking! Yay!
It's possible to think that this film is about the alienation and isolation that we feel in the modern world. You might also think totally differently about it. In Ebert's essay, he brings up a quote from another critic, who says the movie asks us to pull back and look at how funny our relationships are, and how many possibilities exist around us. I like that idea. The film does show that modern life can be hard, but we're all in it together, and if we realize that and can see the humor in it, good things can come of that. It's always fun when something is cynical and optimistic at the same time.
Since I want to get some sleep and Blogger is giving me issues, I'm going to head off to bed. This is a great little movie, though. I would recommend that you check out Jacques Tati's other Mr. Hulot films before seeing this one if you've never seen one - it helps to understand his style of humor and get the character. But other than that, this is a really neat movie, and I had fun watching it today.
Have any thoughts on Playtime? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Playtime
Buy it on Amazon