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The Criterion Collection presents
Playtime (1967)

"How tourist!"
- Restaurant patron

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: May 17, 2001

Stars: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek
Other Stars: Rita Maiden, France Rumilly, France Delahalle, Valérie Camille, Erika Dentzler, Nicole Ray, Yvette Ducreux, Nathalie Jam, Jacqueline Lecomte, Oliva Poli, Alice Field, Sophie Wennek, Evy Cavallaro, Laure Paillette, Colette Proust, Luce Bonifassy, Ketty France, Eliane Firmin-Dick, Billy Kearns, Tony Andal, Yves Barsacq, André Fouché, Georges Montant, Georges Faye, John Abbey, Reinhard Kolldehoff, Michel Francini, Grégoire Katz, Jack Gauthier, Henri Piccoli, Léon Doyen, François Viaur, Douglas Read, Bob Harley, Jacques Chauveau, Gilbert Reeb, Marc Monjou, Billy Bourbon
Director: Jacques Tati

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Modern French engineering)
Run Time: 01h:59m:16s
Release Date: May 22, 2001
UPC: 037429155820
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AA-A- B-

DVD Review

Once again The Criterion Collection has opened my eyes to another brilliant filmmaker, who I otherwise may have missed in the thousands of films released to DVD these days. The man is Jacques Tati, who I first discovered in two other Criterion releases, M. Hulot's Holiday, and Mon Oncle. Tati, who also stars as M. Hulot in all three of these films, had grown tired of his character by the time Playtime (originally to be called Récreation) was put into development in 1959. As he had started to do in Mon Oncle, Tati wanted to tone down the central character to create more of an overview of a group of people. In Playtime, M. Hulot makes an appearance but, aside from a few segments, never really dominates the film. Instead, we get a collage of characters and situations that form this most ambitious follow-up, which took nearly a decade to materialize, and drove Tati into personal bankruptcy, costing him the rights to all his films not long after Playtime was released in 1967.

Tati's brilliance lies in his powers of observation. In contrast to M. Hulot's Holiday, or more relevantly, Mon Oncle, we see that the world of M. Hulot has finished its transformation from the old world into the new with Playtime. Gone are the cobblestone streets, quaint neighborhoods and old buildings. Now, there are the sterile structures of the modern world, laced with mechanics and conveniences. The film opens at the airport in Paris, where a group of American tourists arrive, apparently as part of a European tour. This is our first introduction to the tile floors, partitions, and massive expanses of glass that will dominate the film—in fact, Tati built his own little city on the outskirts of Paris (dubbed Tativille) in order to shoot the picture. We spend the first ten minutes of the film observing the goings on at the airport, and immediately we are introduced to the director's exquisite sound design—the buzzing of transformers, the clicking of heels on tile, beeps, indistiguishable public address annoucements and so forth, in a somewhat exaggerated fashion, if only because we tend to tune these out in real life. M. Hulot (as a double) makes his first entrance as a background character before we move out onto the streets of modern Paris, where glass skyscrapers fill the skyline, and the remnants of the old world are only seen as reflections in windows or doors. As our tourists head for their hotels, M. Hulot makes his way to one of the office towers, a maze of glass, concrete and plastic, where he apparently has an appointment. After negotiating with an intimidating piece of machinery, which turns out to be the intercom, the doorman ushers M. Hulot to take a seat, as the man he is to see makes his way down an extremely long corridor. He is then escorted into yet another waiting room, and after a formidable wait, the man he has come to see rushes off on some other urgent business, with Hulot trying to catch up; but he ends up getting lost in the labyrinth of office cubicles and reflective glass. As with the rest of the film, things just don't seem to go as planned, misunderstandings are many, and the façade of the new world, quite literally, comes crumbling to ruin.

As has been the case in the earlier films, dialogue is almost non-existent, and used as if it were just another sound effect, serving little more than to set up the next sequence of visuals. The humor in Playtime is sublime, with Tati's exposition of the modern world, and our attempts to interface with/function within it. The styling is also more detached than the earlier films, with entire sequences shot from across the street, or through the windows looking in on events unfolding, never really being in the center of the action. The staging for the film was massive, including the construction of two office towers, complete with a working escalator. Shooting was plagued with disaster, taking a year to complete, due to lack of funding and delays, which ended up costing Tati everything he owned to finish the film—a situation he wouldn't fully recover from for another decade. Although it was somewhat well received, its difference from its predecessors and the expectations for the film alienated audiences, and with the events that followed in France in May of 1968, the film became relegated to a thing of the past far too prematurely. Tati continued editing after Playtime's release, cutting some 31 minutes from the work (whereabouts unknown). What we have here is the director's final cut, restored by his estate, and another wonderful addition to The Criterion Collection.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion presents Playtime in its original 1.85: aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen TVs, from elements restored and supplied by Tati's estate. The image is very clean and detail is excellent, though parts suffer from a noticable brightness pulsing, which is somewhat distracting. Fine grain is faithfully rendered, but there are a couple of instances of frame damage and a bit of racking, though rare. Colors have a distinctive, late '60s vibe to them, and seem well-saturated. Some edge enhancement is present, along with what appears to be DVNR leftovers in the opening shots. Overall, things look great, but not quite perfect. While the brightness issue could downgrade the marks, this is apparently in all existing masters, and otherwise the image looks pretty wonderful, so I'm giving this an A-.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono French/English/German soundtrack is well presented, with decent frequency coverage and a clean presentation. No distortion was noted, and Tati's exquisite foley work is wonderful to experience. I am a bit confused though, by Terry Jones' comments that the presentation he saw had width and depth to it, with lots of spatial cues. This would lead me to believe that an alternate stereo track may exist, and Tati apparently alluded to wanting to create a stereo track in an interview with Cahiers du Cinema,. If it does exist, its whereabouts are presently unknown. Nonetheless, the mono track provided serves the film brilliantly, and had I not heard the remarks by Jones, I would have thought nothing more about it.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by Terry Jones
  2. Tati short, Cours du soir
  3. Color bars
Extras Review: As with the two other Tati discs in the series, we get a short 6m:11s introduction to the film from director/writer/actor Terry Jones, though I highly recommed saving this until you've seen the film at least once, as he covers several key sequences which could be spoiled out of context. I do enjoy these director's introductions, and hope we see more on upcoming releases.

We also get Tati's 1967 Cours du Soir (Night Classes), which features Tati in typical Hulot garb as an instructor, teaching the art of observation, which entails many examples of human behaviour including smoking, playing tennis, horseback riding, fishing and avoiding certain normal occurances in everyday life. This 27m:47s short also features a more familiar Tati soundtrack, with a musical number that repeats throughout the film. After viewing three of his features in the last month, this was a bit of a surprise for the amount of dialogue involved. Tati also pays tribute to his earlier L'ˆâcole des facteurs, found on Criterion's Mon Oncle disc. I really enjoy the inclusion of these short films, though I do wish these supplements were time coded.

An essay on the film's production is included on the discs trifold insert, offering more interesting insight into its creator and creation.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

With three of the four Hulot escapades now available on DVD, we have a collection of films that I now cherish deeply. Jacques Tati's skill at exposing the folly of human behavior and the modern world is fully realized with Playtime, though the film is a serious departure from his earlier work. Criterion's treatment, and the inclusion of the insightful extras that mark many of their releases, gives the novice a great introduction to this man's work. The addition of the short films to these Tati releases leaves very few of his works unreleased, and I certainly hope Criterion is able to deliver the rest some time soon. Highly recommended.


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