Playtime on the big screen!

Just got home from seeing Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967). Gad, I love living three blocks from the Cinematheque.

Anyway, it was lots of fun. It’s not the sort of film I am inclined to analyze, at least not after seeing it only once, so I won’t say all that much about it, but it was clearly the work of a director who was very much in control of his material — big sets, a cast of hundreds, carefully arranged details all over the place, etc. — and I was particularly impressed with the sound design. Tati is sometimes regarded as a silent comedian of sorts, and that’s true enough of the character he plays in his films, but this one wouldn’t be half as interesting, or amusing, without the sound design.

I also find myself wondering if the film’s fond spoof of modernism is funnier now that we have moved past that era and can safely mock it from afar, or if it was funnier back then when its original audience was still living through that era.

FWI, I also note that a few of the websites I found while looking for a representative photo from this film compared Tati to David Lean and Stanley Kubrick — one site made the comparison because Tati was just as perfectionistic and personal with his filmmaking as those two directors were, the other because Playtime demands to be seen on the big screen as surely as its fellow ’60s classics Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey. As an avowed fan of both of those films, I heartily agree.

One last thought: Way back when, I remember observing that, while Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean character is something of a silent comic too, the movie Bean (1997) completely missed the boat by building a very lame and conventional comedy around the character, instead of exploiting his silent-comedy potential. That was before I had seen Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968), starring Peter Sellers; and it was definitely before I had seen this. It’s so good to see somebody has realized this sort of potential.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his award-winning film column for that paper, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He has also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005) and The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film (De Gruyter, 2016).