Playtime (1967)

I will fail at this review.

It’s isn’t that I don’t like this movie. I do. A lot. But convincing you to see it may be difficult. It’s French. It’s an older movie. And there is almost zero plot. But I was riveted.

Full Disclosure: I watched the first half of the film three months ago and turned it off. Why? I was kind of overwhelmed by the film. There isn’t fast editing or any sort of cinematic shenanigans to trick you. And yet, keeping up was mentally exhausting, not knowing what I expected going in.

Most of the shots are medium or wide shots. I saw no close-ups. And director Jacques Tati fills every inch if the screen with something interesting. And almost every shot is Art Museum quality with fantastic framing and composition.

Not to sound arrogant, this movie is why we have movies. It’s freaking gorgeous. See it on the largest screen possible. The amount of detail is amazing. Tati designed and built a a small city and designed it for film.

As I said, there is little plot. Generally, we follow Monsieur Hulot (Tati) as he walks around a very modern Paris during the day. There are many, many Hulot doppelgängers, so we’re not even sure we’re following the lead.

The film, really, has a cast of hundreds, each with their own slightly absurd comedic micro-story. And that’s where the magic comes in. There is always something to look at. Something to figure out or enjoy.

Do you like people watching? Figuring out what everyone is doing and why is the narrative drive. It’s the ultimate people watching movie. Everyone in it is interesting. I didn’t even read or pay much attention to the subtitles precisely because the film was so visually interesting.

I think I’ll end up watching this film many times because it’s so good, it’s like an album. Every time I listen to Beck’s Odelay, I catch something new. I feel like I could see the film a thousand times and still catch something new. I can dip in and out.

This is the first Tati movie I’ve seen, another blind spot in my movie knowledge. Show this movie to the right twelve-year-old and you’ll make a movie-lover out of them. I’m excited to see the other two Hulot movies.

There are themes. The cool, metallic blues and grays represent a modern Paris as windows and mirrors often reflect the Paris of old. And inside the giant, super-clean, sleek modern buildings of a re-invented Paris, the ants scurry about their lives, repeating actions and ideas, with Hulot as the human spoiler.

Reading about the movie, this film completely bankrupted Tati. It was a box office flop. People are dumb. Remastered and re-edited, the Criterion edition is impeccable.

It’s a masterpiece.

The dude even makes traffic interesting.

Watch the trailer:

And here’s a clip: