Thursday, 14 August 2008


Next in line in this week,

Jacques Tati

Jacques Tati’s gloriously choreographed; nearly wordless comedies about confusion in the age of technology reached their creative apex with Playtime. For this monumental achievement, a nearly three-year-long, bank-breaking production, Tati again thrust the endearingly clumsy, resolutely old-fashioned Monsieur Hulot, along with a host of other lost souls, into a bafflingly modernist Paris. With every inch of its super wide frame crammed with hilarity and inventiveness, Playtime is a lasting testament to a modern age tiptoeing on the edge of oblivion. This was also the only film that Tati shot on 70mm.

Paris’s treasured monuments are but a fading memory, seemingly incongruous with the new ethos of cold conformity. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe and numerous other icons of antiquated French culture are spotted in reflections as people pass through the clear glass doors, as constant reminder of what has passed. In order to facilitate his vision for Playtime, Tati had an entire scale-city built on the outskirts of Paris. Dubbed “Tativille” it featured moveable, cut-down models of skyscrapers that could be positioned accordingly and large ground-level street sets custom-made to suit the directors’ pre-planned intentions.


Tati introduced his most enduring character, the near-silent and bumbling Monsieur Hulot in 1953 with Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. Tati’s unfussy plot decisions simply constructed the necessary unfamiliar environment within which Hulot could be best placed to act as the comedy stooge in relation to the strangeness that surrounded him.

In Playtime, Hulot is a passenger ambling through a fully modernised Paris of sleek glass and steel office towers, now transformed to resemble every other major city in the world, as depicted in numerous tourism posters.


Jacques Tati was born in Le Pecq in 1907 as Jacques Tatischeff, the son of a Russian father and a Dutch mother. He once said famously that he endeavoured to produce films that would make people smile. On reflection, his body of work proves that he went much further; subtly encouraging people to observe more intently and to think more astutely about social concerns through a gentle form of humour. As a filmmaker, Tati has recurring themes (the leisure class, modernisation, children at play, mass entertainment), and his compositions seem mathematically calculated yet spontaneous and vibrant.

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