Try “Playtime” by Jacques Tati And Taste The Humor Of Back-In-The-Day French Comedy!
In the middle of the 20th century, Europe got introduced an up-and-coming star of physical comedy. Have a clue who we’re talking about?
No, it’s not Charlie Chaplin, no ma’am. Whom we’re getting at is French cinema persona Mr. Hulot (Monsieur Hulot), played by French director and actor Jacques Tati.
But, although a recurring character in most of Tati’s movies, the fact that you just pretended to remember who he was, does very little to show you what the movie “Playtime” is all about. The character says zero about the movie as a whole. Or in it. He barely speaks in the movie.
“Playtime” is that one risk every director decides on as their career advances.
“Playtime” is the screening its audience walked out of, the risk that didn’t pay off. Financially.
But ideologically, it’s a David vs Goliath battle between man and idea; an ABCs in the curriculum of every filmmaker since; and proof that one guy managed to do what we all long to: he envisioned ahead of his time!
So, after losing all possessions to “Playtime” and building an entire town set to fit it, Jacques Tati must have shrugged it off, raised his brows, and said:
“I guess you guys aren’t ready for that, yet. But your kids are gonna love it! ”
But enough “Back to the Future” quotes, let’s try and invoke the whimsical spirit of “Playtime”. And for that purpose we’re leaning on the following two movies and a TV show:
“50 Shades of Gray” – Playtime” is the most unusual movie set in Paris.
“How come?”, you ask, “What do you mean no Eiffel Tower, no cheese and wine, no Quasimodo, no Amelie, and not even Ratatouille?? Well, go figure!”
Hear us out, though. This is some sort of “futuristic” Parisian dystopia in a shades-of-gray scenography Tati made use of to make satire on modern architecture, technology-based future, and the much-feared at the time ‘New Yorkization‘ of Paris, for if there is one land everyone has obviously felt free to criticize over the years, it is America.
Anyway, Tati’s idea was to make a color feature film that resembled black and white cinema to a great length. Therefore, he constructed the ultimate gray scenography. You might be bothered by the fade colors, you might be bothered by the uniformity of characters and wonder what on earth is going on, until you realize that even in the core of grey matter, that pink cheerfulness French vie en rose is known for, could never, ever be bleached down.
“Mr. Bean ”- You’ll finally be able to put your finger on what’s inspired the popular Mr. Bean.
Mr. Hulot is the one barely speaking (save for some murky mumbling); the clumsy one who gets easily distracted by everyday objects; the one who goes for the funny way of dealing with a problem. Mr. Hulot and his gags.
Known for his umbrella, trench coat, and pipe, and the fact that in the year 2009 he began to appear on posters without his famous pipe due to the tobacco advertising ban in France, being shamelessly censored in the middle of Western Europe.
And finally: “Seinfeld” – “Playtime” will give all “Seinfeld” fans a rare glimpse of what a movie about nothing really looks like:
There’s almost something going on, but there’s no storyline;
There’s some recurring characters, but no real protagonists;
They do talk here and there, but there’s no dialogue.
Maybe the point is in seeing how the characters slowly abandon their walk-in-a-straight-line pattern for a more circular formation. Literally. (meaning they slowly start to break their strict social barriers)
Maybe the point is in playing several simultaneous actions of physical comedy at the same time on the big movie screen so that we’re unable to see all, but only one that catches our eye.
Maybe Jacques Tati simply misread his era – Jacques Tati, the man we didn’t aid when he was still alive, but whom we promise you’ll mourn once you see the film.