Digressive Prospects
Digressive Prospects > Play Time by Jacques Tati, Masterpiece of Post-modernism

Play Time by Jacques Tati, Masterpiece of Post-modernism

Play Time (1967) by Jacques Tati is a relatively unknown movie. It is a highly sophisticated visual comedy more than two hours long with nearly no dialogue, which probably explains why it was not a big success at the box office. However, the film is the best criticism of modern society that I have ever seen, and is still very relevant today. It is also a sharp criticism on modern architecture, both capturing the ideals of modernism and pointing at its delusiveness.

The movie confronts the reality of human condition to its modern idealization, culminating in a final scene where jazz and spiritedness defeat the meticulously planned urban environment,  at least for the time of a dance. Play Time is a post-modernist masterpiece because it plays with the paradoxes of human existence – humour and derision being the only possible postures.

Here are two of the many places somehow reminiscent of the Play Time setting.

Liège-Guillemins railway station, 2012

Liège-Guillemins railway station, 2012

Ibis hotel, Dresden, 2011

Ibis hotel, Dresden, 2011

Tags: , , , ,

‹‹ | ››

See the list of all articles

3 Responses to “Play Time by Jacques Tati, Masterpiece of Post-modernism”

  1. Andrew says:

    “with nearly no dialogues, which probably explains why it wasn’t a big success in the box office.”

    - Well actually this is not entirely true. Tati’s other films such as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle follow along the same of vein of being non-dialogue driven and they were both prominent successes upon their release. The problematic issue of Playtime’s release, which mind you is almost ten years after Mon Oncle, displaces Mr. Hulot, the beloved character the French have come to associate with, from being a centralized character within the film. Audiences at the time became alienated from this choice and it didn’t take off in the same way as his other films did even though Playtime is the crowning achievement of Tati’s career. But I do like your thoughts on his film being a post-modern critique, which ironically is simultaneously categorized by a modernist aesthetic. I think a post on the conflict between modernism and modernization in Tati’s films should be in order!

  2. You’re absolutely right, thanks for the correction! The absence of dialogues can’t justify on its own the lack of interest from the public, Mr. Hulot was less prominent than in Tati’s previous films and I have also read that the film came out quite late after the genre was fashionable… The conflict between modernism and modernization is a nice idea for a future post! I believe one can truly appreciate an aesthetic if he can also see its contradictions, and Tati did that better than anyone else in Playtime.

  3. Ashley Bell says:

    The decade long release time between Play Time and Tati's better received movies makes for an odd duck. Playtime, in hindsight, is clearly the better and more sophisticated of the three. Mon Oncle and Mr. Hulot's Holiday, leave me cold in a comparison. The 'gags' in the first two are a little too precious and forced for my tastes and come off as mere homages to the silent era i.e.Chaplin, whereas Playtime has a quiet, surrealism that seems more apropos to a kind of pure cinema. The magic in this movie is clearly in the continuous motion choreography. I found a fresh joy in deliberately paying attention to the guided movement of my eye as the scenes unfold. My next project per Play Time will be to watch it in super slow motion. The scenes seem far too sophisticated and complex to have been planned to the degree which they seem to have been planned. When viewing this again, I recommend framing in the context of a dance.