PLAYTIME, a playful indictment on modern living, is the third film to feature Jacques Tati’s comic character Monsieur Hulot (and the second one I’ve seen). But Hulot, and the American tourist he befriends, play such minor roles in the overall arc of the film. The narrative, played out in little encounters and vignettes, is more about the impersonal wasteland of modern Paris—Tati’s notoriously expensive set built from the ground up—and managing to find some joy in it. As a visual person, I love that it’s such a visual film: the humor is all sight gags and image-based puns, the dialog is mere ambient noise, and the story could be told in the use of color alone. There is so much visual information going on, and so many clever moments packed into each wide-angle shot, that I’m sure I would pick up on twice as much at the second viewing. And though it starts a bit slow, I think the turning point of the film is the opening of a posh new restaurant, barely slapped together before its first patrons arrive. As the restaurant starts to fall apart, the characters and the film itself start to come alive with a beauty and charm that’s difficult not to love.
I fell in love with this movie from the first five minutes, charmed by a band of dogs stirring up trouble around town, and I continued to be charmed for the rest of the film. The director, Jacques Tati, reprises his role as the quirky, absentminded M. Hulot. He’s the titular uncle of the film, and a hero to his nephew who’s trapped in his parents’ horrifying modernist museum of a home. Anything that can make modern furniture look ugly to me is perfect satire. And the scene where Hulot battles an automated kitchen is priceless. Although most of the humor is slapstick, a lot of it is so subtle it’s easy to miss, and there are often layers of it in one scene. I basically enjoyed every aspect of this film, and when I thought it couldn’t get better, the charm, comedy, and satire were wrapped up with a sentimentally sweet ending.