Playtime, the 1967 film by French comedy director Jacques Tati, might just be the first film on the Sight & Sound top 50 that I didn’t care for. How’s that for an intro?
I can appreciate how elaborate the sets are and the big vision that Tati had to maintain to complete this film, but if I am being honest (and I am), I was bored for most of the 2 hour and 3 minute runtime. This is not a movie that provides characters to invest in, or even a plot to follow, it’s a bunch of vignettes and situational comedy setups with small punchlines and little laughs.
Perhaps it’s more suited to a French or European sense of humor (humour)?
It does seem to have a lot to say about globalization and culture. The film takes place in a futuristic Paris, France, where all the buildings are tall and made of glass, and very little remains of what we now think of Paris. We follow two main characters (if you can call them that) as they traverse the city of the course of a day. One, a young woman who is an american tourist. The other, an old French veteran who seems to have an endless number of old army buddies, and who clearly hasn’t been to Paris in a while (he is having a really hard time finding anything).
That pretty much sums up the plot. We see them being shuffled from place to place, interacting with “interesting” characters (that aren’t that interesting or funny), and flowing though all the situational comedy like pros. I just never laughed while watching this. I wasn’t even amused that often. I found everything to be so unbelievable that I couldn’t get into why it was supposed to be funny.
And there are no stakes. We don’t know who the characters are, what they are really after, why we are following them at all. They are living in front of the camera with no explanation or context. Even in comedy, you have to have a reason to care about what is happening on screen.
The sets are amazing and elaborate. The visuals are cool and seem to look like I imagine the 1960s, or at least the 1960s that Mad Men presented to me. The mid-century modernity of this futuristic Paris is visual perfection. But it also is repetitious. There isn’t a variety. After 2 hours, every frame looks the exact same, all the unidentified people start to run together, and it was easy to lose track of exactly what I was watching, and where it was taking place.
And I was very awake when watching this movie, I promise. It was just, well, boring. Perhaps that makes me someone who doesn’t get the movie. That is fine. But one should laugh when watching a comedy, and one expects a movie that is on the list of great movies to be at least somewhat enjoyable.