Playtime: the Pictorial Infinity of Tativille

The Most Expensive Film Ever Made in France

Playtime, directed by Jacques Tati, became the most expensive film ever made in France in 1967 as the pictorial infinity of Tativille. However, like the rest of Tati’s pictures, there is a synchronous dialogue. The lowered volume tries to direct the audience’s attention to behavioral forms and visual jokes in an impractical space. There is almost no story, and dialogue is mostly unimportant. Tati’s famous alter ego, Monsieur Hulot, first appeared in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday in 1953, sometimes occupying entire populations of others in sharp focus. The audience’s eyes are ready to watch Hulot move in his long-stemmed pipe, raincoat, and hat. He moves, not knowing where and somewhat lost, in Paris, confused by urbanization and modern gadgets.

Hulot represents an artistic barrier to Tati, like The Tramp created by Charles Chaplin. On the other hand, Tati wants to move beyond beloved characters and explore entire environments beyond narrative to jokes centered on Hulot. Any commercial prospects for Playtime would not exist without Hulot’s popularity. Despite being present in the film, Hulot has a minimal role. He becomes part of the scene like all the characters in the frame. Contrarily, it is Tati’s goal for the picture. The audience seeks to observe the world in which the audience lives, discovering humor, beauty, tragedy, sadness, and other things simultaneously.

Monsieur Hulot and the Parisian Metropolis

Originally titled Récréation, Playtime, with a unified critique of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday-modern style, contains the Parisian metropolis of Tativille as well as a fun pictorial of infinity. He sets out to emulate Hulot amid a stifling cityscape of existing airport corridors, labyrinthine booths, trade shows, confined living rooms, busy restaurants, and the door of golden silence. For a new project, Tati made everything from steel and glass in various shades of gray. Hulot is more of a mandatory figure in the setting.

Hulot’s position is in the midst of an active population of urban landscapes, lost, to allow the director to organize various activities in public spaces. In addition, the expansive real-world exterior can dominate the frame in a high resolution of 70mm. Therefore, it is a giant leap towards the big screen, according to Tati. However, he cannot afford to pay whatever it costs to take over an entire segment of a city or airport in real life. Therefore, apart from bowing to Tati’s obsessive directing style, he pays attention to every detail.

The Story Within the Frame

There is no actual story in Playtime. Running for 24 hours, American tourists arrive at a Paris airport as part of their European vacation. Barbara, one of the chiefs, was a central tourist and Tati’s neighbor and lover. Like Hulot, she has almost no purpose for the film except representing a familiar face on the screen. Its presence is only to be fanservice, so it is easy to overlook the entrance halfway. Apart from distracting the audience when a Hulot-like person dropped his umbrella, he arrived in Paris by plane.

After accepting a job as a car salesman arranged by his brother-in-law from Mon Oncle, the audience first saw him getting on the bus. As soon as Barbara’s group exits the airport, it expands into the larger world of Tativille. It is switching from one joke to another in a series of city streets, trade fairs, offices, complexes, apartments, restaurants, and crowds. Tati places the camera at a distance only in the main shot. To enable the audience to discover the story within the frame, Tati challenges the audience to find jokes and examine what happened from various angles and details.

The Antidote of Jacques Tati

The sense of Playtime provides audiences with a pictorial infinity to how a film works for alienation from the modern world of Tativille. However, Tati’s antidote developed from his early work as a stage artist. His comedy method involves careful practice by memorizing the actors’ movements to film sequences from morning to night before each shot leads the actors to improv.

Hulot shows a desire to move in his direction in the many pressures’ face of a modern world. Every corner around such forces is his direction. However, it is also no coincidence that the Hulot movement can convey a sense of difference itself so that it emphasizes how the world in Playtime gives rise to a sense of freedom itself.

Behind the Scene

The filming of Playtime is sometimes stopped for weeks or even months at a time for several reasons. More negligible termination, for 365 days, the actual shooting, which was very protracted, made Tati borrow funds from government financiers, film assets, and his wealth to turn to friends and family. Apart from Tati’s family, his fans and the community also contributed, but it was still not enough. In the end, Tati signed on to the rights to the previous three films. It was reported that Playtime’s final budget was in the range of five to twelve million francs. Prominently, Tati quipped that for the cost of building Tativille, the famous actors to star in the film even though the time production did not pay many bills was finished.

Initially, Tati’s cameraman, Jean Badal, proposed that Tati erect a building for production. However, he has something more idealistic. Specta Films, his newly developed company, will build large buildings and offices, even airports. Regardless of which, instead of making this structure a functional space that Tati can resell afterward. He intends to use it for the French film industry, known as the Tativille by the crew and will be built in the southeast corner of Paris. Construction on the Tativille began in September 1964 and encountered near-immediate delays and budget problems. As a result, it was not completed until March 1965.

The Panoramic Format

While Tati uses a 70mm panoramic stock, Playtime takes a broader strip of pictorial infinity to give a greater sense of detail within the frame of Tativille. The desire to adopt a rectangular widescreen format prompted the director’s choice. Because Tati presents his films in standard squares, the stock format films are larger for blockbuster viewing than the originals. As well as being filled with majestic imagery, finding a cinema with a 70mm projector capable of capturing its full visual bounty is still rarer than Tarantino.

However, Tati thinks that Playtime tools allow audiences to have a fuller appreciation of Pins in an empty room. Therefore, the use of frames does not lead the audience to act like Hollywood spectacles. With great care, he avoids close-ups and presents an entire on-screen environment where the scene’s purpose does not stress the visualization. In cinema and art, this kind of methodology helps the viewer or audience identify a comic in earnest.

The Attention of Audience

On the other hand, Tati only shows the Paris monuments, which the audience can recognize in the reflection. However, they are all illusions that Tati artificially created for Playtime. For example, a sequence is featuring five workers holding large glass panels several floors above a building. Below the crowd gathered to watch the balancing act.

The workers dance with nothing in their hands, so the sequence to draw the audience’s attention to the fantastic quality of everyday movement is the best and most whimsical use of glass in an image. Making a list of more jokes still around the glass, pantomimes, and gestures from small details requires much re-watching when analyzing them one by one from the end of the picture, from a distance, up close, or from the whole.

The Cinematic Approach

Tati considers himself a high-level cinematic artist to equate his approach with a sound artist rather than a filmmaker. He said that he was in the position of a painter who was painting a canvas. He describes Playtime as an absurd art in his aesthetic approach to innovation in traditional cinema methods. His speech aptly describes how the film rejects a narrative in favor of a methodical and polite formal technique.

By placing the audience from a distance, Tati turns the audience into a participant or non-actor from his absurd space. Often, his turn is home to the stand-up comedian’s extraordinary process. Playtime and all of Tati’s works fascinates a world of detail where the audience is fully aware of the enigmatic observations. However, when the audience allows themselves to pay attention, everyday life also becomes a recreational activity where everyone becomes the actor himself.

Bibliography

About the author

Salman Al Farisi is the owner of Calxylian and is an elitist who has enjoyed and studied various mediums. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 2020 from the Haluoleo University, Indonesia, where he studied English Literature, Film Criticism, Cultural Studies, Literary Theory, and Literary Criticism. He lives in Kendari in his mom's basement, now unemployed and ghostwriter, life with his cats, and is looking for the future.

Comments

  1. I knew there were more Hulot films, but have only seen the first. Had no idea, this big-budget epic Hulot. Sadly, artistic success often leads to over-spending and, as in this case, commercial failure. Fascinating story behind it all.

    1. Cases like this also apply with films like 2001: A Space Odyssey with Rashomon, albeit in a different context, where it takes decades to appreciate both films. As you said, Playtime, on the other hand, has a unique story behind the making and the content of the entire film. Thank you.

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