Saturday, August 9, 2008

French for Fun

Of course, I'd heard of Jacques Tati… well, okay, I hadn't really heard of him so much as I'd seen the well designed DVD covers at the video store. After reading about Tati's films I thought I'd see what was inside those attractive cases. "Play Time" by Tati revels in placing his Mr. Bean-like character, Monsieur Hulot in an overwhelmingly modernist Paris. The film plays out almost like a black and white silent movie, though really it's just mostly wordless with a subtly coloured palette.

While the movie is basically a setting for Mr. Hulot's visual gags and misadventures (when there is dialogue, it's almost awkward), the over riding theme is the impersonal and alienating nature of modernism. One side story shows an American tourist hoping to find the "real" Paris but only occasionally catches glimpses of landmarks as reflections in shop windows or glass doors (a travel agency shows posters for Mexico, New York, Rome and London, all with identical architecture).

Even though the city is portrayed as cold and stark, I couldn't help but enjoy the minimally furnished rooms and openness created by large pane glass windows. Even more remarkable is that all the incredible sets were created for the film (this is one time when the DVD extras have to be seen). In the last part of the film, Tati has fun at a designer's expense by showcasing a new restaurant where the design wreaks havoc on the staff and customers. Despite all that, Tati reveals his love of the city when the incredibly choreographed ending culminates with the bustling traffic and crowds turn Paris into a circus.

Watch a clip from Play Time

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