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Playtime – THE CRITERON COLLECTION #112 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 15, 2009 by  



A wonderful accomplishment by director Jacques Tati.  Although a film with no plot and hardly any dialogue, “Play time” features absolutely beautiful imagery and for those who can see the beauty and the comedy within  this film, will be entertained from beginning to end.  A fantastic film and another fantastic Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection!

TITLE: Playtime – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #112

DURATION: 124 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), Color, Stereo, In French with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: September 18, 2009

Directed by Jacques Tati

Written by Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange, Art Buchwald (additional Englis Dialogue)

Produced by Bernard Maurice

Associated Producer: Rene Silvera

Music by Francis Lemarque

Cinematography by Jean Badal, Andreas Winding

Edited by Gerard Pollicand

Costume Design by Jacques Cottin

Starring:

Jacques Tati as Monsieur Hulot

Barbara Dennek as Young Tourist

Rita Maiden as Mr. Schultz’s Companion

France Rumilly as Woman Selling Eyeglass

France Delahalle as Shopper in Department Store

Valerie Camille as Mr. Lac’s secretary

Erika Dentzler as MMe. Giffard

Nicole Ray as Singer

Yvette Ducreux as Hat Check Girl

Jacques Tati’s gloriously choreographed, nearly wordless comedies about confusion in the age of technology reached their creative apex with Playtime. For this monumental achievement, a nearly three-year-long, bank-breaking production, Tati again thrust the endearingly clumsy, resolutely old-fashioned Monsieur Hulot, along with a host of other lost souls, into a bafflingly modernist Paris. With every inch of its superwide frame crammed with hilarity and inventiveness, Playtime is a lasting testament to a modern age tiptoeing on the edge of oblivion.

French director Jacques Tati is considered as one of the best directors of all time.  Known for his comedic work in France, his character Monsieur Hulot has appeared in several successful comedic films such as “Juor de Fete”, M. Hulot’s Holday”, “Mon Oncle”, “Traffic” but there is one film that will be his accolade.  That film is “Playtime”.

Considered a masterpiece by critics, the film was also a commercial failure and was the most expensive film ever created in France as Tati created a set featuring a whole city block with high rise buildings that looked incredibly real.  But the film was ahead of its time.

“Playtime” is a visual film with no significant plot, nor does it have much dialogue.  It’s a film that is driven by its many characters onscreen and the elaborate setup as characters, buildings and vehicles are treated with so much detail on the film, that it just a feast for ones easy as Tati absolutely created a film that was sheer brilliance.

But part of the problem was his risky gamble on 70 mm widescreen and stereophonic sound.  Many theaters were not equipped to handle that and to make things worse (but understandable) is the lack of dialogue which can easily turn off audiences.  So, needless to say, the film didn’t do well in France and also in America.

It’s after Tati died in 1982, is when people found admiration in his work and seeing how his films were truly amazing.

“Playtime” is like a smorgasbord of life being changed by modern technology and as Tati was known to do, lambast modern society as he was a man that was definitely “old school” to the time of his death.

The film revolves around Tati’s famous character Monsieur Hulot and an American tourist named Barbara.

For Monsieur Hulot, he easily gets lost in the city and leads him to adventures to various areas such as an office building (which he had a problem with today’s modern architecture) as he gets lost trying to get to his meeting and ends up being pulled away to a high-tech trade expedition, a high-tech apartment and then leads him to nightclub known as the Royal Garden.

As for Barbara, she just wants to experience the beauty of Paris.  She accompanies her (loud) American friends but she rather enjoy France her own way.  Obviously Barbara had different ideas in mind of Paris but instead she receives a modernize setting.

The film culminates with the carousel of cars as Barbara must leave the city and sees almost a carousel/parade of all these vehicles all around her and how all the people react.  What we see is a city that has been transformed to a festive, enormous metropolitan playground.

“Playtime” focuses on these two characters (and other characters who shows up more than once), Tati showcases modernization (which looks beautiful) but it’s that demolishing of the France that he loves and now getting used to this new France is what makes “Playtime” quite entertaining.

Viewers can watch “Playtime” with its original French audio but also an International version which features the film in English.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Playtime” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio).  Accord to Criterion, the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format.  The HD digital transfer was created on Spirit Datacine from the 35mm reduction internegative made from the 65 mm interpositive.  Thousands of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixl Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

“Playtime” is featured in its original French language but also a alternate International soundtrack which features a few scenes with English dub.

As for the audio, the audio is presented in lossless stereo.  Criterion mentions that the soundtrack for “Playtime” was remastered at 24-bit from the original stereo audio stems.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using Audio Cube’s integrated audio workstation.

Subtitles are provided in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Playtime” comes with the following special features:

  • Video introduction by writer, director, and performer Terry Jones – (6:13) Terry Jones talks about “Playtime” and what he remembered when he watched in on the theater for the first time, what he thought about the film and also a little information about Jacques Tati.
  • Selected scene commentary by film historian Philip Kemp – (46:44) A well done commentary by Philip Kemp as he talks about certain scenes from the film.  Kemp definitely giving an intelligent and yet smooth delivery for commentary for the film.  Very informative!
  • Au-delà de “Playtime,” a short documentary featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the production – (6:30) Featuring a behind-the-scenes look of how the set was created for “Playtime” and video footage of Jacques Tati with the cast and crew.
  • Tati Story, a short biographical film – (20:38) A featurette celebrating the work of director Jacques Tati.  Featuring photos and video of Jacques Tati from when he was a child to when worked on his final film.  Very good insight to Tati’s personal life and his career.
  • “Jacques Tati in Monsieur Hulot’s Work,” a 1976 BBC Omnibus program featuring Tati – (49:28) Featuring an interview conduced by Gavin Millar who interviews Tati at the Hotel de la Plage about M. Hulot and films that the character has appeared in.
  • Rare audio interview with Tati from the U.S. debut of Playtime at the 1972 San Francisco International Film Festival (Courtesy of Pacifica Radio Archives) – Featuring Jacques Tati at the 1972 SF International Film Festival (discussion moderated by Albert Johnson) and insight of Tati’s feelings of the film being showing in the US and his appreciation for the American fans who enjoyed the film.  A great audio recording that gives us insight of  Jacques Tati.
  • Video interview with script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot – (12:09) Sylvette Baudrot talks about working on the film and reveals some secrets of how Tati made this film work.
  • Cours du soir, a 1967 short film written by and starring Tati – (27:41) A short film in which features Tati teaching a mime class.

Also, included is an essay (in the insert) by Jonathan Rosenbaum (a film critic for the Chicago Reader from 1987-2000) titled “The Dance of Playtime”.

“Playtime” happened to be the first Jacques Tati film that I have ever watched.  I was familiar with his character of M. Hulot but for years, I have wanted to watch and experience the film.

The first thing that I found surprising is the attention to detail as the unbelievable set Tati’s company had created was just fantastic.  The buildings look modern, the set looks like a major section of Paris with all the people, buildings and vehicles.  And sure enough, “Playtime” is a film that utilizes everything on screen to show how modern technology has literally chanted the landscape. Some who embrace the changes and convenience of modernization and some who feel they are left behind and are literally lost.

What makes this film work outside of its incredible set is that Tati is a perfectionist.  He literally directs each person in the film.  Everyone has an import part to play. May it be how characters have this choreographed walk as they go off in several directions to characters at a restaurant as we see people dancing on the dance floor, each person dancing differently.  While servants are trying to get the food out and you see visual gags as one servant clearly has their eyes on something inside the club, while another is attentive to the female patrons and those who are desperately trying to get their food out.  It may seem chaotic, but Tati knows what he wanted to get onscreen and succeeds.

“Playtime” features absolutely beautiful cinematography as we see bungalows on the work floor which work almost like a maze.  We see buildings that appear to be metallic and the lighting automatically synchronizing when they turn on.   We see vehicles move almost in synch with other vehicles.

We see people throughout the city in similar routines at work, we see people promoting the latest in modern technology ala the late 60’s and what is most amazing is that there is hardly any dialogue.  It’s like you are given an upfront look at how life is in the city and seeing how various people react to each other.

The film plays out quite interesting as the first half is dedicated to various characters such as M. Hulot who has a business meeting but ends up getting lost in all the modern settings.  Barbara is a tourist who has accompanied several American women to Paris and finds the city to be quite breathtaking. We see Monsieur Hulot getting lost in offices from buildings that look alike.

But then the second half of the film focuses on a nightclub known as The Royal Garden that is opening and yet not ready.  We see how the builders and the restaurant staff prepare for their major night despite the nightclub not yet ready.  Where the first half was quite visual, the second half focuses more intimately on the people of the nightclub and the film becomes more gag-driven but yet with so many people in the film, Tati did a wonderful job in making sure each character had some part in the film and contributed in some fun or hilarious way.

A visual  film without dialogue may seem boring and monotonous but fortunately Jacques Tati included a good number of gags to make the whole 124 minutes a bit lively.  I did feel the film went a little long and that scenes could have been cut but with Jacques Tati putting all his energy into this film, I understand how difficult it was for him to even cut any scene out.  But I do feel that the film could have been much shorter but then again, I would have been curious to see Tati’s original, longer cut.

If anything, I really enjoyed what Tati did to create such a beautiful film.  Three years of his life and also the crew and talent who made this film a reality is very much appreciated as I was entertained visually and I just felt so much respect for Tati after the film was completed.  I did find it a bit disheartening to learn how this film which cost over $15 million (which was incredible for 1967 and was the most expensive French film at the time) caused problems for Tati as he was left bankrupt and unfortunately damaged his career.  As much as it was critically well-received, it was a failure in the box office but partly that was because Tati chose 70 mm instead of 35 mm  and Stereophonic sound which many theaters were not equipped to play during that time.

The Criterion Collection really did a great job in presenting “Playtime” on Blu-ray.  The film looked absolutely beautiful for a film that is over 40 years old and because this film and what takes place onscreen is so immense that each time you watch this film, you will see things that you just didn’t catch the first time.  You can’t help be amazed of how Tati and crew were able to create a modernized city.  Tati made sure to really utilize his large cast in this film and what you see maybe different from what others are seeing because there are many things going on in the background.  So, definitely a film that I have no doubt will require multiple rewinds because too much is happening in one sitting.

Also, The Criterion Collection edition of “Playtime” on Blu-ray features many special features that Jacques Tati fans will enjoy.

I’ve heard that the film is a statement by Tati of how much society has changed along with the city he has loved.  The modernization with the use of electronics in buildings and restaurants and just making sure he has enough gags to make the audience laugh.  If only Tati can see how much has changed today, that would definitely be an entertaining script.

A film that showcases beauty in various ways.  This is absolute a film that was the highlight of Jacques Tati’s career and despite how this film may have done in the box office, anyone watching now and seeing what the director was able to accomplish with no discernible plot and very little dialogue is fantastic.   And again, the visuals are just fantastic.  I was really blown away with how beautiful and intricate of a film “Playtime” truly is.

“Playtime” is highly recommended!






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