- Ravi Swami
"Playtime" - Dir:Jacques Tati, 1967
"Playtime" - directed by Jacques Tati and his last film because it went massively over-budget to the tune of 14.5 million francs and effectively bankrupted him, is considered his crowning achievement, and when you dig deeper into the film's long history and production details, you can see why.
Searching on Google I noticed a Guardian review that is headed "life-affirming" in relation to this film which is appropropriate only if you think the whole idea of "ultra-modern", as it was expressed in the 60's, was a bad idea, because in this comedy Jacques Tati effectively evicerates it.
I was attracted to the film *because* of the ultra-modern aspect since that's what I remember growing up - the sense of ultra-modern in airports travelled through as a kid, newly built flyovers and a promised future that was a short step away from "The Jetsons", which is still being expressed in architecture today but just with fewer straight lines and more curves - think Zaha Hadid.
Tati had grown somewhat weary of playing "M.Hulot" yet again by the time "Playtime" hit the floors - very expansive floors, in fact, and built on a hill top in the town of Joinville where an enormous exterior standing set was constructed - ignoring pleas from his distributors and financiers that the "M.Hulot" name alone guaranteed audiences and that he should carry the film as an omnipresent character.
However, that simply didn't fit with what Tati was aiming to communicate in the film, which is that his "Everyman" character would be lost in the shiny new technological environs of the modern city of the 1960's - a city of tall "ultra-modern" tower blocks needs larger than life people to exist within it and M.Hulot has effectively been diminished in importance and size as a result, and in the film spends much of his brief screen time avoiding the cogs of the "city machine" or being jostled about between one chaotic scene and the next.
There are scenes of great multilayered visual comedy but it's a harder watch than Tati's earlier films - prepare to be staggered by what turns out to have been an enormous set, dubbed "Tativille", the cost of which bankrupted him and delayed completion by a few years - and yes, those glass and steel tower blocks were built just for the film...