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4.3 out of 5 stars
Playtime [1967] [DVD]
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Why was Playtime a failure, sending Jacques Tati into bankruptcy and costing him control over his life's work of films? His previous film, My Uncle, had been a commercial and artistic success. M. Hulot's Holiday and Jour de Fete had gained Tati world-wide recognition and respect. He had become recognized as one of the few authentic geniuses of film.

Watch Playtime and I think you'll find the answer. Tati in his earlier films placed Hulot in situations where we could empathize with him. Hulot was an innocent. As we came to like him, we also came to like the people he encountered. Even with their pretensions and idiosyncrasies, we could see something of ourselves in them. Tati might be holding up a mirror for us to look in, but M. Hulot was such a gentle companion that we smiled as we recognized ourselves.

With Playtime, there is little Hulot. Instead, we have Tati's view on all sorts of social and cultural issues, from the sterility he saw in much of modern life to modern architecture, group behavior, impersonal offices, loneliness, boorishness and American tourists. We're observers, and our job is to share Tati's viewpoint. Hulot, now middle-aged, has become a minor player in the film. In his earlier movies, Tati was careful to give us small numbers of people with whom, along with Hulot, we could come to know. In My Uncle, for instance, it was essentially one family and one modern home, along with Hulot's own apartment and his neighbors. In M. Hulot's Holiday, it was a small seaside hotel and its guests. With Playtime, we have a large, impersonal office building, all glass and right angles, filled with people -- employees, visitors, exposition guests, customers. Then we have an apartment building with huge curtain-less windows allowing the pedestrians to look right in, and we're among the pedestrians. Then we have a nightclub filled with customers, waiters and managers. There is little opportunity to get to know any of these people, much less develop affection for them.

However, as with all his movies, Tati fills Playtime with streams of intricate and carefully developed comic situations (although comic is too broad a term), often that build from small happenings we've barely noticed. There is only sporadic and incidental dialogue, but sound effects are vital to the movie, as subtle and amusing as what we see.

As sterile and unattractive as Tati makes the airport, the office building, a convenience store and the apartment, there are such odd and subtle sights as the bobbing wimple wings on two nuns, a floor sweeper staring at a booted officer, Hulot suddenly sliding down a floor, glass windows and doors impossible to tell if they're there or not, a table lamp that dispenses cigarettes, strange-looking and wobbling food at a self-service counter...and the list simply goes on. And it's not just one thing at a time. Tati can fill a screen with all sorts of amusing occurrences, some happening in the foreground, some in back, some at the sides.

The last hour of the movie takes place in a modern nightclub, the Royal Garden, which has just opened and is barely ready for its customers. A dance floor tile sticks to a maitre d's shoe, a fish is ostentatiously finished table-side by a waiter...then finished again and again by mistake while the two customers ooh and ah. A bow tie falls in the sauce. A bus-load of tourists suddenly appear. When Hulot manages to accidently shatter one of the glass doors to the restaurant, it is a culmination to all those glass walls we've been looking through and walking into. The follow-up gag with the round door opener is almost worth the price of the DVD. As the modern restaurant gradually disintegrates around us, Tati finally begins to ease up on personal viewpoints and let's us simply enjoy the sight of people becoming more like people. And that, I suspect, is the point Tati wanted to make. In an odd sort of way, the last ten minutes evoke the humor and warmth of previous Tati movies...a packed traffic circle with all the cars moving slowly together; a father taking a toy horn from his little boy and blowing it, too; the bittersweet last look at Hulot walking past a bus where a young woman he met at the nightclub is being taken to the airport with her tourist group.

If you like Tati's viewpoint on the impersonalization of modern society, you'll probably like Playtime. Some critics call it his masterpiece. If you like Tati, I think Playtime is essential, if only to understand what happened to him. The movie is an idiosyncratic and gallant failure, in my view, and much too long. Still, I'd rather watch Playtime than most of what passes as genius in films today.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2005
Misunderstood and occasionally unappreciated ever since its initial 1967 release, Tati's visionary masterpiece is now an undisputed classic. The hallucinatory, hypnotically strange modernist vision of a barely recognisable Paris is quite simply amazing. Hugely influential for its use of space, architecture and Tati's amazing ability to mine subtle observational humour out of literally 'nothing much going on', this visually beautiful film is a must for all film fans. It is also an object lesson to all aspiring filmmakers and critics alike on the use of sound in the cinema.

Tati show us how most definitely less is more, in visual and aural terms. He makes every single second of screen time count. This is incredibly difficult to achieve, yet Tati manages it all with effortless grace and dexterity, all the while charming and amusing us with the immortal Mr. Hulot's hilarious physical comedy. The French Buster Keaton? Why not; they both share an innate genius for visual and physical comedy, and the intuitive appreciation of cinematic space, which few directors, living or dead, ever fully understand. Whenever I see this movie I am reminded of Time Out's famous review of Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West (1968), which (I admit I am paraphrasing here) goes something like "The only critical tools you need are your eyes and ears: this is cinema!" How true and so apt of Playtime.

Tati's alter ego, the ever polite, angular Monsieur Hulot, is let loose on a Paris dominated by modern offices, pristine glass surfaces and scurrying, over-officious French nine-to-fivers. Whether filming the shimmering space of an airport lounge and check-in area in a hilariously evolving sequence shot in one long take, or bumbling in and out of a new office building's reception area, where the automatic doors emit one of the funniest sound FX in cinema, Tati's distanced, observational humour of life in all its idiosyncratic charm is constantly surprising and always very, very funny.

Although the film's use of the wide screen and frame works so well up on the big screen, it will paradoxically work equally well on DVD. Here the 'audience' i.e. me, you, the dog, and the sofa, will just as readily appreciate the details and hilarious little asides Tati inserts in almost every shot and frame, which are easily missed at a single viewing.This movie rewards multiple viewings and DVD is undoubtedly the vehicle for that. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the Big Guy of Cinema must have had DVD in mind when he thought of PLAYTIME, as this is one of those classics which you will want to see again and again, and not get bored doing so.

Before I wax over lyrical about Tati and PLAYTIME, one last paragraph on the film's famous closing 35 minutes or so. Watch it as it unfolds, simply, beautifully and in one long sequence, and ask yourself this question: is there a funnier, more charming or beautifully observed and directed closing sequence on film? I hope your answer will be a resounding 'NO!'...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
As you've probably gathered most of the reviews are for the 'DVD' version of the 1967 Jacques Tati classic “Play Time”. And at present (February 2014) this movie is available on BLU RAY in the States and elsewhere. But which issue do you buy in you live in the UK or Europe?

Unfortunately the desirable USA Criterion issue is REGION-A LOCKED.
So it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't).
Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.

Luckily the superbly presented and restored British Film Institute issue is REGION FREE – so will play on UK/EUROPEAN machines – and offers the bonus of both DVD and BLU in the same package.

Check you’re purchasing the right issue ‘before’ you buy...
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2004
It's been a long wait for a decent region 2 release of this movie by actor/director Tati. It's not is most accesible work (Les Vacances de monsieur Hulot/Mister Hulots Holiday is a better choice to get used to the subtle humour), but it's a timeless and very funny movie. I had to get used to the fact that much of the humour happens in the background, so it's quite rewarding to watch this movie more often. Decent extra's about Tati and the making of this movie make this a very good DVD. Bring on the other Tati masterworks!
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Like Keaton,Tati's claim to fame is based on his direction as much as on his acting. Indeed it could be said that the two came into conflict in his later career,his directorial skill and concern with elaborate mechanised set-pieces causing his output to be irregular and often working against his lanky,absent-minded quality as a clown. Mr.Hulot's Holiday(1953) remains one of the greatest silent comedies in cinema history(sound actually added after shooting,but it's contribution to the comic impact is minimal), and Tati's greatest achievement in that film is the way in which he manages to render a specifically social stereotype-the would-be sporting bourgeois on a seaside holiday-appealing to a much wider audience. Later films like Mon Oncle(1958) and Playtime(1968) have an almost mathematical precision in their comedy lay-out and a serious underlying theme:the decline of individuality in an age of mechanisation. He sacrificed with time his music-hall and circus performer act.

Playtime was 3 years in the making,involving the construction,on the south-eastern outskirts of Paris,of a vast futuristic set of 6 acres-dubbed `Tativille' by the press. Mr.Hulot now a ghost of a presence walking about in the background of many of the complex choreographed movements of people -in -general-scenes, all negotiating the modernist architectural labyrinth,spreading out the `democratic comedy' into a wider space.Mr Hulot is merely one character among many, not privileged with any dominant emphasis. We are invited to explore the space offered to us,presenting a whole screen in long-shot,allowing our gaze to roam picking up small comic elements or repeated gestures and patterns and shapes and movements. There is no plot or story,more themes like tourism(the American ladies,the Japanese gentlemen)being on vacation in a modern metropolis;exploring office buildings,airports, nightclubs, private residences bus-stops and roads,especially steel and glass and the reflections in glass or through it. People in residences seem to live in shop windows like marionettes.

There are several visual gags running through it,like the one with the shattered glass door,which the doorman to the nightclub restaurant has to pretend is still there, merely the handle in his hand(using it to collect tips), standing by the empty space of the door, opening and shutting it as new people arrive or visitors leave.There's also the gag of the torn waiter's uniform being changed as more waiters's uniforms get torn. Another one is the floral hats of the American ladies being watered by the overhanging street-lighting or by the waiter pouring wine in the restaurant.Playtime has to be watched several times to pick up the vast amount of detailed action in every scene. Tati had said this film was `the big leap...I'm putting myself on the line...there's no safety net.' He no longer wanted to concentrate on Mr. Hulot,where he could still be lucky by playing it safe,detailing his every movement in another little escapade. This proved a box-officer disaster that brought his career crashing down.But it was his masterpiece. He regarded it as his best work,'the film I wanted to make'.

The second half of the film,using jazz and cabaret singing in the restaurant seems to speed up,with anarchy, ordered chaos and disintegration of the newly opened restaurant. Amongst it all is the sweet love story of Hulot and Barbara, the American tourist,who he flirts with ,drinks with and dances with,later buying her a headscarf as a present before she gets on her bus and leaves forever.Love that's fleeting,like Hulot's presence in the film, diffused and spread out into the many other Hulot-type figures and the many other non-Hulot characters that have an equal place,as the real achievement is the sheer resilience of human unpredictability in the 2nd half of the film.At the centre of it all is Tati's mimicry of people and his film-making genius.What is truly amazing is the layering of the many sounds from the environment,dialogue reduced to another multilingual chatter of noisemerging with sound effects.Characters and inanimate objects move in an abstract ballet.His satirical intent led to him creating comic worlds on screen,for which he worked with Jacques Lagrange his production and set designer.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2010
I have read some of the other reviews here of Jaques Tati's Playtime. Most of the reviews seem to be lukewarm at best (even the positive reviews being a bit guarded) with a few pointedly negative reviews. I want to start off by making it clear that I respect those opinions. I'm adding my viewpoint here to offer a different way of thinking about this unique masterpiece with the hope that it will help open-minded and adventurous film fans.

Briefly, the technical details of the DVD: The DVD contains the full-length (previously released versions in cinemas were often edited for length), 70 mm (essentially, the old school version of IMAX -- i.e., the highest resolution film stock available; previous releases were often in 35 mm because of technical limitations), 7-track stereo audio version (I say more about this below) of Playtime -- essentially the version as Tati intended. The DVD also contains a couple of brief documentaries on Jaques Tati's career and the making of Playtime. Those two documentaries alone (as brief as they are) makes it worthwhile for Tati fans to get this DVD.

Having got that out of the way, I want to note that I'm actually going to focus my review more on the film -- at least the version that is as close to Tati's intentions as possible -- itself rather than the DVD.

I first saw this film at a French film festival at Cambridge's Arts Picturehouse. Despite my enthusiasm for French movies, I have to admit that this is the first Tati film I had seen (since then, I've seen most of his other films).

The revival version I saw of Playtime was the full-length, 70 mm, 7-track audio version of the film -- as mentioned earlier, as close to Tati's vision of the film as possible. They showed the film on the largest screen available. The 7-track stereo audio had to be handled in a way that is rare in the post-silent film era; the audio track was not on the film reel itself but was on a separate disc that had to be synched up with the film.

As I sat in the front row, I had an unprecedented sense of being enveloped by a film ... cinema as an all-encompassing experience. Part of it, I'm sure, was the technical aspects. The richly restored colours and film stock shown in its full, high resolution 70 mm glory (on the big screen of a theatre no less). While Tati's films are more akin to silent films in the sense that the dialogue is there more for affect rather than as a plot driving device, nonetheless, the mutli-tracked audio also lends itself to an awe-inspiring experience by elevating the seemingly mundane and ordinary sounds of daily life to the level of an epic cinematic soundtrack.

But it's not just the artiface, it's the art -- in this case, the film -- itself. Taking place in an artificial Paris (affectionately nicknamed by the press as 'Tativille') that's more a mash-up of the Jetsons and Bauhaus (i.e., something like Canary Wharf) rather than the more familiar Hausmann, Tati does a witty take on a hyper-real version of day-to-day life in a modern metropolis. There are so many delightful details and touches to this film -- in any one scene, there can be a dozen fascinating things happening at various points on the screen -- the viewer gets the sense of being caught up in the world -- a world with as much hustle-and-bustle as our more familiar one -- Tati created.

Many people here and elsewhere make it a point to say that Jaques Tati seems to be doing social commentary through his films, especially Playtime. I can't quite agree with that viewpoint. If Tati is doing any social commentary at all, it seems as though he does much less of it than what Charlie Chaplin -- clearly an influence on Tati -- did in his films.

Instead of thinking of Tati's films (including this one) as some sort of stentorian social commentary, I think it's better to think of it as observational humour. Whatever 'critique' Tati may have to offer about modern living seems to be done with a lot of finesse and joie de vivre rather than in some sort of scolding tone.

I also think, contrary to what some others have said, that there are plenty of physical and visual gags here to keep both casual and devoted fans of Tati smiling (my favourite is the glass door bit at the restaurant). But I should note that it's not really slapstick commedy (but that's also true with most of his other films); again, it's more observational humour rather than sheer bawdiness our knee-slapping hillarity.

As I mentioned earlier, Playtime is the first Tati film I ever saw. Since then, I've seen many of the others. The other films are, needless to say, great. However, I will always believe that Playtime -- seen as Tati had intended and not in the limited ways it's been presented -- is his masterpiece and his best film. There are so many joyous details in every single frame of this film that I believe that I could see Tati's Playtime a thousand times and still discover a touch, a stroke, a detail by the master. I can't say that for many other films (including Tati's other great films). Playtime is not just a film, it's an experience.

I suspect that some of the people who saw this film in the past (in theatres) and are giving it negative reviews saw a bastardized version of it (35 mm, edited for length, etc.). Even though they may have seen it again on DVD -- and even though, as I've said, the DVD has the fully restored version -- they may have unfortunately been deprived of the real thing ... the true masterpiece as Tati intended. Any truncated version -- including the DVD (even if one were to see it on the largest plasma television possible with an excellent audio kit) -- can never capture the magic I felt as I sat there in the front row enveloped by the rich details of the 70 mm print, on a larger than life screen, with the 7-tracked audio, in a cinema.

Tati's Playtime is in that sense like Carol Reed's The Third Man [DVD] [1949]. No matter how much I enjoy seeing The Third Man on DVD, I always have the nagging feeling that the ideal place to see it is huddled in a dusky theatre, sheltered against the cool twilight of a Viennese night.

Similarly, to be fully appreciated, Jaques Tati's Playtime has to be seen in a theatre, on a large screen, in 70 mm, with the life-as-a-soundtrack mutli-layered audio, prepared to enter Tati's world -- a funny, witty, and colour-filled version that mimics our often dreary one.

It is one of my fondest wishes that, before I pass away, I get to have that unique experience -- seeing Playtime as Tati intended -- again. It is my hope for all of us on this New Year's Day.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 9 May 2012
Playtime

To some Playtime (1967), at four years in the making, is Jacques Tati's masterpiece - a film that fully realised his complex vision of a movie where the audience will laugh not at the same thing, but at different details. To others, despite its brilliance, this cold satire on business and bureaucracy, lacks the innocence of Les Vacances de M. Hulot, a perfect film.

With Les Vacances, Tati created his own vision of a seaside holiday to which we always wish to return. Here, though, he bankrupted himself (and even lost his house) with the austere world he had built on 6 acres outside Paris. Playtime's excesses may have damaged his reputation (he was to make just one more film). But it has aged remarkably well, and looks stunning in this BFI edition, complete with alternative `international' soundtrack, which Tati revised to incorporate more English dialogue.

To those yearning for another Les Vacances or Mon Oncle, this will inevitably disappoint. But accept that Tati, brilliant film-maker and perfectionist that he was, had long earned the right to pursue different styles and concepts, and you will find yourself absorbed by Playtime, a film truly with no equal.
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on 11 October 2010
It is about thirty years since I watched any Jaques Tati and I resolved to put that right by buying three of his masterpieces.
Playtime is unique, original and has touches of comic genius. Tati's shrewd observations of modern day life and hapless tourists racing through their day, time pressed and seeing nothing resonates well with life fifty years on. I thoroughly enjoyed his anarchic take on life. Bought with 'Mon Oncle' and "Jour de Fete' I feel I have gone some way to redressing the balance. A charming and amusing antidote to many modern day films, it has glimpses of a France of yesteryear.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 August 2010
I bought these films for my husband and he loves them. Very gentle comedy with language no barrier. Our youngest son (13) thought they were funny too.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2011
Bless my father for showing me 'Les Vacances de M. Hulot' when I was barely into my teens and shame on me for waiting nearly 20 years to discover the rest of Tati's films. I must have watched that classic dozens of times and yet never branched further than that.

Playtime is simply a masterpiece, there is simply so much to marvel at. Everything about it is simply wonderous; the incredible sets, the composition of the shots, the simple, elegant beauty of the multiple sight-gags (too many to take in on a single viewing) and of course Tati himself. It is simply incredible how much he (Hulot) can achieve by barely doing anything.

It is one of those wonderful films that simply stayed with me for days. At work I would break into a smile, a giggle or even full laugh. I can't think of many films that have had that effect on me.

Please do yourself a favour and buy Playtime.
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