A visual ballet that dances on the edge of modernity’s precipice, trying desperately to evade sharp right angles and invisible barriers cursing a future age of hopeless isolation...but still finding hope in the human condition. Director Jacques Tati has crafted a brilliant life affirming allegory by utilizing his famous character M. Hulot, an elderly gentleman lost amid Paris’ changing landscape, an anachronism who is able to sustain his individuality amidst this cultural revolution.
Tati fills the screen with divine humor and grace, allowing each scene time to grow and build with exacting detail, delivering few obvious punch lines but expecting the viewer to emotionally absorb the images and routine and apply them to their own experiences. Tati doesn’t show the Paris of Antoine Doinel, the dirty streets that linger beyond the tourist’s gaze, but neither does he show the glimmer of his city’s landmarks except as reflections: he shows the city as losing its identity, like the people who inhabit its sterile corridors. Travel posters adorn the glass walls of an office, enticing adventure to other countries, and it’s hilariously the same building in every picture, but with a different child. A plaid bag whimpers like a scared pup in the airport lounge, kept on a leash by its owner. Monsieur Hulot overlooks a maze of office cubicles as he races to meet with a businessman and a high-angle shot shows Hulot lost because the woman in the center is always facing his direction! The businessman frantically races for paperwork while speaking on the phone to his boss who is only a few cubicles away. Hulot also ends up chasing a reflection through a glass panel across the street. Or witness the tourist who keeps trying to photograph the flower-lady (a perfect example of France, she says) and people of every nationality keep wandering into the frame. The ubiquitous black and silver chairs, their wheezing like a creature trying to catch its breath, offers an uncomfortable repose. Our postdated protagonist grudgingly accepts an invitation to visit a friend’s home, but he lives literally in a glass house: one wall is open to the street! The family goes about their business as if this is quite ordinary, while the pedestrians take no notice. Every TV in this complex is also tuned to the same channel.
Tati plays with audience expectations by showing us many different characters that are mistaken for Hulot, and then gradually diminishes his importance to the narrative. Every composition is framed with purpose, and multiple viewings will reward the audience with new and whimsical elements: PLAY TIME is playfully elegant.
Final Grade: (A+)