Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Criterion Collection Spine #112
(Foreign language film)
Move over Monty Python, I just discovered Jacques Tati!
With hearing a couple people say that you really had to pay attention to get into this film, got me really interested in checking it out for myself, and what I discovered was a pure delight.
Tati is a French comedic filmmaker that specialises in visual gags, and I have heard that Playtime was his highest achievement ... purely based on all the sets he built to pull it off.
This may be the first foreign language movie I have ever seen were reading the subtitles is optional, since they rarely add much to what is going on.
Playtime continues the adventures of the character Tati plays named Monsieur Hulot who reminds me of a combo of Mr. Magoo and Inspector Jacques Clouseau. The movie is split between Hulot and a group of american tourists. The first part of the film shows the comedy within a 'modern' office building, being bland monotonous. The humor really clicked with me during that scene where Hulot is carefully checking out how cushy each of the office chairs are, and discovers a funny one that has a delay with it returning to its original shape. There is also a running gag with Hulot attempting to meet up with someone at the building, but they keep missing each other. A video essay I saw on You Tube pointed out how Tati was great at establishing a gag and then layering them to create an elaborate comedic composition. Also all the shots are wide so Tati can fill the frame with as much insync action as possible.
The movie takes place in France and Tati hints that these bland office buildings have become the priority. You can see Paris' great landmarks but they only appear in window reflections, making them appear to be an afterthought in the minds of those living in this society.
As day transitions into night we get this really cool scene where we see these 4 apartments where one of the walls facing the street is this giant window, but we can't hear whats going on since the view we get is from someome watching from the street. Each of the groups of people appear to be watching tv, and one even begins to pull out a projector. This seemed to be a commentary that people setup all these barriers around themselves but end up all doing the same things.
The second half of the movie focuses mostly on night life in Paris by focusing on this new restaurant that ends up coming apart at the seams. I loved that gag about the door being broken and then the doorman continuing to pretend to open and shut the door using just the door handle. Then we get a little commentary about technology when we see that the AC unit is not working and the controls for it are this massive panel computer on the wall, that the restaurant manager says he can't read since it is not in French. It is so hot that this model airplane begins to melt, but once the AC begins to work again it unmelts and the characters look like a fan is blowing right in their faces ... LOL.
The gag with the waiter that keeps fixing his hair and the fish being prepped over and over again for the wrong table are a lot of fun. All these elements get layered in brilliantly as the restaurant starts falling apart as we watch the madness ensue.
Tati's thought provkoing visual use of comedy is very unique and is a joy to watch. I look forward to checking out the rest of his movies and start picking up on his running themes, which I suspect will help me appreciate Playtime even more next time I check it out.
Thanks for checking out my review and please give it a Like! Happy movie watching ... SKOL!