#290 Playtime

Watched: January 23 2021

Director: Jacques Tati

Starring: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, about a thousand others

Year: 1967

Runtime: 1h 59min

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Monsieur Hulot (Tati) is back, as confused by modern life as ever. And honestly, we can’t blame him. The world which he inhabits is very confusing indeed, but it is also thoroughly entertaining.

Unpopular opinion: we know these are probably meant to be symbols of the dehumanization fo the workplace or whatever, but these cubicles actually seem like perfect workspaces for you local office introvert. We don’t all thrive in an open-plan office!

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We move from one strange location to the next, starting off in a glass and steel office building/hospital/furniture-and-or-gadget-fair/airport/everything-else-in-the-world, and ending in a nightclub which is still under construction yet serving guest all the same.

“The food is rubbish, the ceiling is caving in, the heating is all screwy, but these tassels were made for shaking, baby!”

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Despite M. Hulot being the natural focal point, there’s not real main character, no real plot, and no real climax. Like its predecessors, Playtime is as much a collection of storylines and gags as it is a feature film, but this is not a criticism. The choreography is perfect, the gags funny and charming, and the innocent romance sweet. Everything is filmed in wide shots and sometimes there’s too much going on onscreen for you to catch it in one screening, so be prepared to go back to it again and again.

Just kidding. You’ll never leave. There is no escape…

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The sense of alienation and confusion experienced by the inhabitants of “Tativille” is something we can probably all relate to on some level. Yet they move through life somehow making it work. As do we all. All we can do is our best.

The most useful person in this restaurant is the waiter all the others can switch ruined uniforms with. We all serve a purpose. Look at you go little buddy!

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What we learned: The world is complicated. But we should bring back the over-the-top restaurant/nightclub-hybrids. Once the pandemic is over and we can all go out again, that is.

Next time: Point Blank (1967)

#163 Mon Oncle

Watched: January 8 2018

Director: Jacques Tati

Starring: Jacques Tati, Adrienne Servantie, Jean-Pierre Zola, Alain Bécourt

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 57min

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Our second encounter with Monsieur Hulot (Tati) was perhaps even more enjoyable than our first. Mon Oncle introduces us to his extended family: his sister, his brother-in-law, and his adorable nephew. Oh, and their dog, of course. Cannot forget the dog.

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So smart in his little waistcoat! Squeee!

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Hulot’s brother-in-law Charles Arpel (Zola) and sister Mme. Arpel (Servantie – who doesn’t even have a name in this) live in their ultra-modern and technologically advanced house Villa Arpel, where everything goes wrong on a regular basis. In addition to their fancy house, they have son Gerard (Bécourt) and the aforementioned dog, both of whom like to play with strays.

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“I’ll tell mother you followed me home. I’m sure she’ll let me keep you!”

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While the Arpel’s try to keep up appearances to their neighbours, colleagues and anyone who should happen to pass by, Gerard is disenfranchised by it all and loves spending time with his unassuming uncle. However, Charles thinks Hulot is a bad influence, and that he should get a proper job, a proper house, and a proper life. Like he has.

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“A proper house with a proper wife in a proper plastic house-cleaning dress and with a proper fish fountain in the front garden. Is that too much to ask?”

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However, when he tries to introduce Hulot to this life, everything goes very wrong. As expected by those of us who watched him on holiday earlier on.

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When even getting a glass of water requires an engineering degree, you know you’ve gone overboard with the tech

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There’s so much in this movie we loved! The opening credits, Mme. Arpel’s plastic house dress, the traffic moving in time with the music, the dogs, the hats (oh, the hats!), the slapstick, the hark back to the silent movie era (especially Modern Times), the trotting secretary, and the garden party populated by the worst kinds of people in the world.

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Did we mention the hats?

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It’s silly and wonderful, and thoroughly entertaining. Have fun!

What we learned: We need to up our hat game!

Next time: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

#115 M. Hulot’s Holiday/Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot

Watched: June 10 2017

Director: Jacques Tati

Starring: Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, Micheline Rolla, Valentine Camax

Year: 1953

Runtime: 1h 23min

Mr Hulot's Holiday

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It’s vacation time in France, and everyone (in the upper middle classes) is getting on a train to sunny beaches. Headed the same way is a run down disaster of a car, threatening the peace of the holiday makers. An ill wind blows into the hotel – Monsieur Hulot (Tati), an OCD weirdo who’s very kind to animals, approaches.

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“Bonjour, mon ami. C’est moi! Croissant, pantalon, poo poo la la!”

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Hulot, despite being a polite and well meaning character, has a tendency to exacerbate any problematic situation he gets himself into, of which there are many. Mainly because he causes them in the first place, such as unwittingly crashing a funeral, although often technology also plays a part.

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The cars in this are practically lethal

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M. Hulot’s Holiday is basically a silent slapstick comedy, 30 years after they were in vogue. It has lots of silly gags and characters and is just a jolly good time. Hulot himself could have been really annoying, but he’s oddly endearing (something we personally feel Rowan Atkinson failed to achieve with his similar character Mr Bean decades later, although we understand that may be a controversial statement).

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“Just out for a stroll. Don’t mind me.”

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This film is so, so silly and fun, with lots of nods to earlier silent comedy geniuses and the tradition of mime and physical theatre. In addition, there’s a series of eccentric supporting character, such as the British tennis referee and poor Arthur. All together, they make a hilarious experience for any comedy fan. Check it out!

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We’ll just leave you with this image, completely out of context

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What we learned: The best intentions can still lead to disaster. Also, you don’t need a lot of dialogue to make people laugh.

Next time: The Band Wagon (1953)

#92 Jour de Fête

Watched: March 21 2017

Director: Jacques Tati

Starring: Jacques Tati and other French people

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 10min

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This film is hilarious! Seriously.

It’s the day of the annual party in a small French village and everyone is getting ready, as explained to the viewer by an adorable old lady’s running commentary on their efforts. In the middle of the preparations is François (Tati himself), the local postman and part time village idiot.

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For reference, this is his most intelligent expression throughout the film

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The poor man is trying to complete his round, but is sidetracked by the other villagers who recruit him to set up a pole (not a euphemism), get drunk with them and watch a propaganda film about the high-tech American postal service. The latter inspires him to step up his own game, with hilarious consequences.

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He is constantly being taken for rides, both literally and figuratively

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Jour de Fête is a silly, silly film with loads of throwbacks to old silent movies in the physical humour and slapstick found throughout. There’s also verbal humour though, so it does not stay too much in the silent movie era. Among our favourite scenes were the meeting of the potential lovers with the Western soundtrack playing, the old lady narrator in the beginning, and of course François’ amazing chicken catch. If you have no idea what we’re talking about – watch the film.

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For those of you wanting something deeper than a silly, French comedy, there are also political undertones as the protagonist confuses the U.S. M.P.

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We recommend this one to everyone who likes a bit of silly in their lives, although we did feel sorry for François when the other villagers made fun of him all the time. Still, that’s the price you pay for being the village idiot (which is an important position, make no mistakes). We’re looking forward to more Tati in the future.

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Hopefully, the upcoming films will also include the old lady and her goat. Fingers crossed!

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What we learned: Allons-y!

Next time: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)