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Jacques Tati, new 35mm at MoMA

Tati in Playtime

Some things never get old. I’ve seen MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY at least 2 dozen times and I still laugh out loud during the tennis racket scene. The same goes for PLAYTIME, the first of six newly struck and lovingly restored 35mm prints of Jacques Tati’s films, now being screened at MoMA. PLAYTIME was a phenomenal flop when it was first released in 1967, but Tati’s radical use of sound, color and meticulously choreographed, city street chaos make it my personal favorite. By 1967, Tati had been playing the beloved Mr. Hulot for 14 years and he was ready to try something new, but audiences weren’t yet ready to let go. In fact, Tati wasn’t going to include Hulot in PLAYTIME at all, but without him he couldn’t secure much-needed funding for the film, money that Tati quickly blew on his outrageously costly set design.

Whatever it cost, it was worth it. Moving from busy street scenes to a stark and somber modern office building or apartment, PLAYTIME is more like a beautiful, moving tableau than a narrative film. Any narrative that exists is more about the nature of the city itself; Hulot is merely a silent observer, an outsider and a victim of modern design. PLAYTIME is able to play the critic, but also to just play. In the hilarious restaurant scene, a brand new restaurant struggles to cater to its high-class clientele, but the whole effort was slapped together at the last minute and by the end of the night the room has literally fallen apart at the seams and the diners can either run out appalled or stay on, join the party and have a good time. Seeing it in brand new 35mm will knock you off your feet.

Jacques Tati at MoMA, Dec. 18 – Jan. 2. Full screening schedule here.