Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2004

Playtime (1967)
Jacques Tati, director


Discussion Questions:
last updated December 28, 2004

For this set of questions you are given an image, sequence or set of images from the film. Prepare a critical commentary describing the significance of these images as they pertain to the film itself (production, technique, plot), to the critical commentary that Tati is making about Modern Paris, and to the larger discussion of the role of Modern Architecture and the criticism of American influence on French values in the film.

Each thumbnail below is linked to a larger screen capture of the same image in case you need to see the image in greater detail.

Your name is BELOW the series you are assigned. Please keep your answers to less than 500 words. For the in class discussion, please paraphrase your answer, do not read it as we are not being left with time for discussion due to the increasing effort you are putting into your work. This is not bad, but we need to keep within the timeframe of the class and make room for general talk.

link to extra reading on this film

please also read "Architecture in a Mode of Distraction" on page 171 in Lamster's Book. If you don't have it, they have lots of copies of that and my other text in the Architect's Supply store across the street...

x 1. x

Julia Farkas

What struck me as one very interesting aspect of Tati’s movie was the manner in which people or rather characters navigate through the buildings. The three frames are taken from the beginning of the movie and are set in the ground floor of the modernist buildings.

The manner in which the character navigates through the building is strongly influenced by certain suggestive signs. In the first image, the floor is dark and light. The characters all walk along the light part of the floor. They take their corners when the floor design allows for them even though the architecture would allow for less severe motion.

In the second image, the main character accidentally turns into the elevator. The architecture giving him no indication of what is stable or service space. The maze like map in the elevator gives him little hope of finding his way back.

While in the third frame, the porter attempts to navigate the building by electronic means. Yet is left dumb-founded faced with the numerous buttons in front of him.

I think the implied narrative in the three images and indeed throughout the first half of the film that Tati is trying to deal with the articulation of architecture and it’s ability to relate ourselves within it and the fact that we are relying on other mechanical means by which to contextualize ourselves rather than by means of architectonic articulation. The characters’ navigation through the building leaves him and the viewers disoriented and bewildered. There is a strong play between signs and symbols rather than the actual architecture to suggest any orientation.


Christian Tognela

Jacques Tati interviews Monsieur Hulot about Jacques Tati

Jacques Tati : Bonjour Monsieur Hulot, could you please tell us something about Playtime?
Monsieur Hulot: Bonjour...well, it was an amazing film! Even if i’m afraid that something went wrong.
JT: Something wrong? What do you mean exactly?
MH: For example, you made me go around this new city, which is supposed to be Paris, for a long you remember the first release? 152 minutes...
JT: I remember, and i agree with you, it was a bit too long...
MH: the last release is about 120 minutes...and you know, it’s a movie in which there’s basically no plot, each single frame is so full of infomation and details that you should look at it more than once to get everything...and then, sometimes it seems that you are against modern architecture, against progress...
JT: But you know, I was not. I just wanted to underline that probably we were making some mistakes. I was afraid of these cold, monotonous cities that, in a way, seemed to come out of the idea of modernism. I was trying to make people laugh and think at the same time about our society.
MH: I do know; but for example look at these 3 pictures: there are these glass houses and all that happens to me inside seems to be wrong...I hardly speak, but my feelings are quite clear...even the woman seems to be upset all the her room, each time she sees a poster on a wall about foreign decided to make them look all the same...I know you were trying to make satire about those years but I had the impression that you went a bit too look nostalgic when you show the reflex of monuments of Paris in the windows.
JT: What do you think about Tativille?
MH: I think it was great. I think that you really made a great job. In a way you anticipated something like “La Défense” that actually started in the 80’s. I think you were such a bright observer...I know you really appreciated the new technologies.
JT: Of course! I told you, I was not again progress. I used one of the first 70mm motion-picture camera, I made a very complex soundtrack for Playtime...Do you still think I was against modernity?
MH: No, probably you were not. I know you had a lot of problems, debts, to make the film on 70mm...I know you wanted to suggest that probably the only way to save our cities from such a glass&steel stereotype was to trust the poetry of ordinary people...there’s always this sort of love&hate relationship with modern society. I just think that sometimes the gags about these unuseful gadgets are overrated.
JT: Don’t you think that we run the risk to lose our identity? Too many sounds, noises, images, informations...
MH: I guess you were right, we could run the risk...
JT: Thank you, Monsieur Hulot, merci.
MH: You’re welcome, Mr. Tati.

  Mark Cichy

Nancy Gibson

Tati has staged Paris as an amusement park for Americans who are more interested in alternative venues for American culture than the actual experience of the real Paris. The historic icons (Eiffel Tower, Sacred-heart Basilica, Paris Casino) of Paris only appear at a distance or reflected in the doors of modernist glass buildings where the tourists amuse themselves with American products. It doesn’t matter that the buildings all look the same and you can’t tell where one begins and another ends. Everything is designed to look insubstantial and accessible without actually being so. Tourists are satisfied with images and scenes of places rather than experiencing them. Paris is just a picture to admire like the quaint flower lady on the street. Barbara is oblivious to the flower lady’s business as though she was merely put there for Americans to photograph.

Hulot is the main foil in this film, used to demonstrate the stupidities of modernism as he gets lost, bumps into things and mismanages technologies like elevators and door openers. It seems that modernism is good at making people look foolish or foolish people make modernism.

Modernism is parodied in the setting of glass box buildings that are apparently interchangeable. All the glass doors look the same and make the same funny sound when they close, kind of like a mistake. Modernist furniture is displayed as something that never gets mussed but isn’t very comfortable. The décor is parodied as something thrown together at the last minute and the disastrous results at the cabaret take up a large portion of the film. Modernism is designed for appearance alone, cheap, quick and non-enduring. The customers are almost oblivious to the collapse around them. They are blinded by the dazzle of modernism and have little time for history thereby associating this ignorance and stupidity with modernism. There is not a scene in the film that is staged in any of the old buildings of Paris.

It may be that modern technology has become so accessible that ignorant, stupid people are now able to travel and display ignorance and stupidity in historic locations.


Vivien Liu

The scenes from Playtime depict the city as a playground, where the roundabout becomes a merry-go-round, mechanical car jacks become like children’s rides, and the elevated platform of the worker becomes much like a mechanical ride in the background. The particular sequence in the movie suddenly charges the world of Playtime with colour and vibrancy, where cars are now in a range of colours contrasting with the start of the film where buildings and the streetscape are predominantly grey and white. The sense of the playground is enhanced with the use of a very carnival-like music, and relates the movie to its title, Playtime.

Tati conveys here the elements of mystery, awe and poetry within the modern society. He is perhaps trying to put more life back into the bland and monotonous city that depicts the modern society with its enormous glass-clad office buildings and repetitive architecture, or even perhaps trying to mock the idea of the modern. Tati attempts to revitalize Paris from the lack of originality and poetry, its participation in the “International Style” which creates intimidating and confusing spaces within buildings (we see this when Hulot continuosly gets lost while looking for his partner M. Giffard).

Michael Votruba:

The images pertain to the film Playtime by representing technology in Paris. The focus is on machines, particularly cars, representing a new dependance on technology in Paris. Through Tati's critical view he depicts the abserdities of the new technolgy that seems to make peoples lives more stressful and less accomodating. The first provided image represents a traffic circle around which cars are moving in an orderly circular fasion. The cars seems to enter the circle but do not actually go anywhere they just continue spairaling around. At the very center of the circle is a corkscrew monument that in a sense mimics the movment of the traffic. In this Tati might be making a comment on the nature of the automobile as the primary means of circulation within the city. This is however an unrealistic depiction of the way cars actually move through the city. One can imagine the condition if this same traffic circle was imposed on present day downtown Toronto drivers. In this case chaos might be caused because the current minset of city drivers is speed and aggression to reach their target destination.

The secound image deals with automobiles being raised and lowered on hydraulic lifts. In this scene we see a man who seems to be a mechanic and a man that seems to be a scientist. Together they are in the process of repairing cars. The lifts seem to arbetrarily be raising up and lowering down.Through this there is a depiction of technology as playful additive to society but no real purpose. The lifts add a new component to the modern city offering a glimpse of a modern playground with cars that seem they are on a 'teeter tauter'.

The third provided images deals with a service lift being used by a workman repairing a light post. Here there is a juxtaposition between the simple elegant light post and the awkwardly complex machine that is required to service the light. This raises certain questions about the mindset of a society that needs complex machinery to do very simple tasks. The light’s presence raises implications that affect the city at a larger scale. Repairing it causes requires a large machine that blocks automobiles and intimidates pedestrian traffic. The malfuntioning of the lift continues Tati's whimsical depiction of modern Paris. He shows the lack of efectiveness of technology offering a viewpoint that it is impractical and prone to misuse.


Adriana De Angelis

In 1967 Jacques Tati directed his film Playtime.
In those days France was on its way to undergo a second Revolution: may 1968, in fact, was not at all that far away and Berkley’s riot was a reality. As we all know, those particular contests started world youth rebellion which changed completely the established, old fashion way of thinking expecially of the so called “old world”, that old world that Tati in his very peculiar, soft, shy, almost understated way seems to be praising. Two struggles thus, supported in two completely different ways, were almost coexisting: the first, carried on with cruel fighting, bombs, screaming, no compromises at all, was global and more typical of young people and the second full of wisdom, discretion, freedom from emotional involvements yet ingenuously romantic more personal and fitting a man in his late sixties. That’s probably why, with the world busy with its strong battle against the ancien régime, this film was not at all understood when first finished, signing the end of Tati’s long career. Luck of timing unfortunatly because the film is actually too much ahead of time, or, more properly, it’s above time. Being the last film of Tati and of his famous character, M. Hulot, ought to be considered in all ways his will. Yes, his will of fighting any exageration of modernity which tends to make everything absolutely uniform, normalizing this so varied world of ours, making everything alike. And how Tati, almost like a father, suggests us to fight? With a great sense of humour and lots of fantasy, the same characteristics, though in this case absolutely unintentional, which appear in the extraordinary creations presented at the fair where he accidentally happens to go. Even though he is only a stranger there he doesn’t feel or act like a stranger at all, in fact, he seems perfectly at ease when, thought a vendor by two old ladies, he very kindly helps them solving their problem with an electrical device without even mentioning that he has completely nothing to do with the modernistic exhibition. And if the most up-to-date fashion designers want us to make a garbage can out of a classic column we can always wear, as pink spectacles, those sensational glasses thought for women who want to put on mascara without putting them off; the same glasses that worn by mistake by the German vendor make him look more likeable and friendly. The important thing is not to take anything too seriously, even architecture that seems to be the protagonist of the film. No, the protagonist is the world and its incredible changes and adaptability to changes and more than anything human beings that, even though in a caotic way which scandalizes architects willing to design an impossible world of perfection, give color and life to any avveniristic creation. Yes, the human factor is what counts in the end, architects in primis have to remember it and even though the most famous French brand of cheese, La vache qui rit, appears under an English name it’s still French like typically French becomes the atmosphere in the sterilized restaurant after the fall of all the modern structures. Magically what is fancy and coldly chic becomes more animated making us thinking of an Impressionists gathering like the one depicted by Renoir in its Bal au Moulin de la Galette. Time has gone by but the way people wants to share common moments is still the same. We must keep in mind that is always Playtime on the stage of this Balzac’s Comédie humaine which is life and that the world, no matter what, like a colorful merry-go-round, keeps on turning just like the traffic around a typical french rond point.




Aaron Nelson

For this set of questions you are given an image, sequence or set of images from the film. Prepare a critical commentary describing the significance of these images as they pertain to the film itself (production, technique, plot), to the critical commentary that Tati is making about Modern Paris, and to the larger discussion of the role of Modern Architecture and the criticism of American influence on French values in the film.

In the first image Monsieur Hulot is sent to this glass room, a waiting room, for the man he has an appointment to see within the building. Once inside the room many funny events occur, firstly the exaggerated noises against the silence of being in the room, the noise of his feet walking and slipping across the heavily polished floor in his exploration of the space and noises of air leaving and sucking back into the cushioned chairs which is shown in the first slide, in a way relates to the new Modern Paris that he is unfamiliar with, he has to explore the smallest of rooms just to get an idea of this new Paris and how it is created, and the choice of having no music score playing in the background and making and isolating the noises within the room deliberately gives the exploration that more importance to the theme of the film.
The second picture is inside the nightclub/restaurant, the nightclub being this new modern place to be within the city, is instead a nightmare of unfinished construction and elitist patrons. The picture showing a drunk falling from his seat, for the first time of 3 times within the night in a way shows that old Paris is still within the realms of this modernist place, you can’t change the people, but you can change the architecture.

The last image is unusual it shows 2 ladies dancing in the nightclub/restaurant and they both have a crown painted or tattooed onto their backs, the reason being… it’s actually the back of the seats that they where seating on, the impression of the crown or fingers which is the shape of the back of the seat, again making a mockery of the nightclub/restaurant and modern furniture by innocently leaving an impression on the ladies backs.


Shane Czypyha

Jacques Tati’s Playtime is a film that depicts Paris as a typical international city. This look at Paris is of the city as a homogenous space. Buildings are all nearly identical and a great variety of programs such as offices, exhibit spaces, restaurants, clubs, homes, drug stores and markets all occupy the ground floor space. This homogeneity questions the importance of history in society, as the film turns a blind eye to the historical and monumental character of Paris. To contrast America to Paris makes an American city seem like a place of future and technology, as opposed to a place of history. The American tourists in the film make the city seem like a satellite America. One tourist says, “I love Paris.” This statement is ironic because the tourist only sees the homogenous buildings that could essentially be in any city, and none of the buildings and monuments that make Paris a unique place. Everything in the film seems to be on display, behind glass. This is a reflection on the nature of the American marketplace. It is as though the Paris shown in the film is a giant infomercial, a grand display of gadgetry and commercialism.


Anne-Marie Armstrong

Each image reflects the overarching idea of the alienation of Modern man. The first two images show the interior of a travel agency. The posters advertise various cities, displaying the standard image of an imposing glass and steel building against the backdrop of one or two iconic images of the particular place. The standard Modern building is placed in the foreground, filling the composition and taking precedence over the more textural and vibrant images. In these posters, we see a uniformity and banality that signifies the affect that modern Paris, and Modern Architecture has had upon the lives of the citizens of Paris. Tati communicates the clash between this modern existence and the rich and varied quality of human nature and the natural world. This is also displayed in the third image, portraying the drooping, pitiful bouquet of flowers. This scene follows an image of a similar form of street lamps, effectively communicating that the modern city of Paris cannot support the natural environment, but does transpose its imagery in a cold and sterile manner. In general, the blue-gray hue of the images and the perspectival shifts of the buildings in the posters, communicates a cold and mechanistic quality and a sense of confusion or disconnection to the overall scene.


Elizabeth Myers

Playtime creates an abstract vision on modern Paris. It is Tati’s commentary on the role of both modern architecture and American culture in the city. Throughout the film he used the same type of filming techniques; a wide shot not focusing on anything in particular. This gives the viewer a sense of being there because he provides an opportunity to focus any number of events that is happening on screen. He always multiple activities going on at once, commenting on many aspects of modern life. The viewer can notice these on his own, without the direct message used in films such as Alphaville.

The three stills that I’m looking at are fairly simple shots, mainly commenting on the culture of modern Paris. Looking at the energy it has its density, and chaos. The shot of the elevator shows a group of people going out, just beginning their night, while another group has just ended there day and is heading in. Paris is a 24 hour city, where there is always activity. The first shot in the restaurant shows and extremely crowded space, where groups of people are piled together. It shows the Parisian mentality, nobody seems to mind the crowded chaotic condition they are in, the party goes on. The third shot makes a point of showing the concept of “image” that the French have. This idea of fashion and appearance is always very important to them.

Although the three stills focus mainly on the culture of Paris, they also comment on modern architecture and touch on American influence on the city. The architecture of the nightclub seems as though it is based purely on aesthetics and does not respond to the actual condition of the place. It does not function well for the amount of people of type of space it was meant to be. The images show lines of tables ordered in rows very close together, while people are engaging in a very social and somewhat disordered event around the, the two do not go well together. Also part of the chaos is due to the high energy dance floor set in the middle of this fine dinning set up. This would be the American culture combining with the classic French culture of dining, producing a very chaotic and somewhat contradicting environment. But most evident amongst all this chaos and disaster is that nobody seems to minds. Everyone still has a good time, and the night is somewhat of a success. The Parisian culture is what holds it all together.


Jim Arvai

The film Playtime is a slamming indictment of Modern Architecture.

The three images in the discussion question make a sarcastic gesture on people as victims of modern architecture and what happens when it is foisted on them. The three scenes are separate comedic skits with design snafu’s as the main prop.
The first image (tradesman measuring fish and pass-through) shows the failure of modern design to address the most basic requirements of function. Modern architecture does not provide real solutions.

The second image (bar décor blocking bartender) shows design as fluff arbitrarily imposed without regard to people. Modern architecture ignores the individual person.

The third image (waiters hand stuck in broken chair) depicts the shoddy nature of the products of modern design. Modern architecture is transient and will not endure.

The Parisian claim to haute cuisine, haute couture, and all things traditionally Parisian, when set in modern architecture, is shown deglamourized and shoddy. Parisian high society and good manners tries to exist in a modern architectural setting, as portrayed by the nightclub, but the traditional roles of the club employees and guests are foiled by the failures of modern design resulting in skit after skit of observational humor. Modern Architecture is slammed for the creation of the New Modern Paris.


Joshua Bedard

Jacques Tati’s movie “Playtime” is a view of modernist architecture and the influences of modern technology on society. In the film modern architecture is depicted as being very cold and sterile. For this reason we see very little interaction between the humans and the built environment. Instead they are highly fascinated by the innovative gadgets created by modern technology. It is not until the upbeat restaurant scene that we begin to see a flop in these conditions.

In the restaurant scene we now begin to observe the human occupants adapting to the sterile environment they earlier looked unengaged with. On the contrary they are now less observant of the flaws modern technology is unveiling around them. For instance this can be seen when the HVAC system begins to malfunction.

In the first image I was given we see the architect and an employee frantically trying to fix the HVAC system before the patrons become upset. It is also interesting to observe here the following statement made by the architect to the restaurant employee; “I can’t do a thing [.] It’s not written in French.” This helps further Tati’s view of the American influence on the French and the lack of respect for the French language. Even though the HVAC system has malfunctioned and more and more people are filling the restaurant it virtually goes unnoticed by the occupants.
This lack in observation is again evident in the second frame I had that concentrates on a replica Boeing 747 on the counter of the bar. Here we see two men so engaged with the environment and in conversation that the melting wings of the plane go virtually unnoticed. In fact even when the cold air causes the wings to resurrect and regain their solidity the phenomenon still goes unnoticed.

In the final frame I was given we see the over abundance of power the HVAC system has. Here we see the powerful system produce an abundance of air that is so powerful that it ripples the skin of the women in conversation with her husband. Although you would figure this would surely stir a reaction and complaint, it does not create a reaction. This is Largely because the occupants of the restaurant are far more engaged with the energized interactions occurring within then the building itself.

Overall, Tati successfully depicts to us in the beginning the technological utopia of modern Paris. It is within the first half we observe the citizen’s (in our case Hulot’s) inability to adapt to the sterile surroundings created by this utopia. However, halfway through we see the hinge point that is reassured through the images I was given that humans can and do adapt to their surroundings.


Natalie Drago

Playtime is a visual and auditory experience and production that poses questions regarding the contrast between the French lifestyle and new French behaviors determined by a modern context and setting. Those questions incorporate the nature of the petty lifestyles, fixations and traditions that define the French middle class. The technique and effects (automation) employed in Playtime served to demonstrate new possibilities derived from modern technologies and industrialization enforced by the incorporation of modern post war inventions and gadgets. The setting adopted the “international style” of modern architecture, common to east and west societies. This backdrop moves from the background to foreground and vice versa, providing opportunities and moments of interaction between the set and the players, man and his built environment.

Despite the interaction with setting we sense the alienation of a society from its space, place and time. Alienation where there used to be comfort and stability, in the correct sense to make unfriendly, hostile or indifferent where attachment formerly existed. Also all players risk being devoured by the depersonalized modernity surrounding them. Tati comments about and targets the depersonalizing effects of modern architecture, the estrangement of Parisian culture from its roots due to American influence and interjections while commenting on the evils of technology by means of gadgetry and technical developments. The plot centers mainly about the evils of technology in the newly modernized, Americanized and commercialized Paris. This contrasts the values of traditional Paris, a developed and highly interactive city with a strong sense of place demonstrated in the urban design, the scale of its urban fabric, where street spaces are cityscapes interconnected and sustaining social activity.

The film is reactionary, yet highly experimental, fascinated with analyzing, defining and discovering man’s place in the world. The set is as inhumane as possible, clashing in every way with human nature, human contact seems an impossible act at first. However, as the day passes into night (and then into day again) individuality replaces structure and Hulot and all humanity conquers modern sterility. In essence Tati describes his view on how humanity must overcome hard-nosed technological feats, clod empty redundant design, American interjections by means of new social structure, commercialism and urban design and scale. Instead he looks to reestablish connection between people and place by means of commenting on interactivity and social behavior. Playtime demonstrates the negative aspects of American design and critiques them in the form of an imposed backdrop in France, where the contrast between tradition and modernity, social networks, isolation and alienation are stark and prevalent.

In the first image, two men are immersed in a dialogue. This image addresses person to person interaction in the foreground of a stark modern space. There arises a sense of warmth and intrigue that contrasts the cold, inhumane setting that flooded in and out of earlier scenes. This could be interpreted as a simple yet charming example of humanity persisting and conquering the contrived form and sterility of the modern architecture and setting, as well as the evils of technology that surround them. In this scene the colors have changed from grays and blues of the earlier scenes to a warmer friendlier more engaging atmosphere. This atmosphere enables more social interaction to occur despite the obvious modern element apparent in its design.

The second image depicts an interaction of an individual with setting, place and time. Once again the physical gestures and apparent contemplation of the individual in his setting charms us as with many elements contained in the production of the film. However we still sense a degree of separation and alienation in this scene. The player has greater difficulty relating to his environment than to the man from the previous frame. There is little present in his environment that holds him. He traces the veins in the marble in a moment of solitary contemplation. The radiating veins in the marble could be references to infrastructure, urban design and/or the form that dominated the cityscape of traditional Paris. Alternately the man’s actions could be intended to express the new level of disorientation achieved by the typical Parisian amidst the new and foreign Americanized modern city with its many electronic components and inventions. His gestures also remind us of a rendering movement similar to the swerve of the arrow over the restaurant entrance attempting to direct into the restaurant space. Could the man also be giving a commentary or directive based on the new design of the French landscape? I believe it could be perceived a form of commentary, similar to the directive of the plot.

The third image depicts Hulot looking out over a modern skyline, littered with skyscrapers embodying modern form and functionalism. Comparatively to other scenes in the film, Hulot senses an alienation from his environment and perceiving the dehumanizing qualities of this breed of design. His senses are reacting to color, positioning and the obvious sterility that defines the new built environment. Here Hulot has lost all connection with the ground, even the sparsely landscaped terrace doesn’t provide enough sensory stimulation to overcome the view that describes a city that doesn’t correspond to French tradition or custom. He seems to stand as an outsider in the environment of hard line shapes and modern form. Any possible affection for the city are hindered by it’s unfriendliness and inhuman scale.

Tati exposes how the evils of technology and sterile modern design, have the inherent potential to destroy the urban fabric existing in Paris, upon which lied the potential for human interaction and interconnectivity within space. Still the film results in highlighting the human ability and drive to overcome our environment and potential estrangement. He demonstrates the positive aspects of the Parisian culture, a social culture, and emphasized the negative influence that American design and philosophy could interject into that community. America being the embodiment of capitalist power, modernist philosophy and cold commercialism, while Paris represents romance, society and demonstrates the basic human drive for social interaction and connectivity. Still “the gentle dialogue free satire of the ups and downs of modern city life, puts charm on an unprecedentedly grand scale”. Similarly all that occurs in the films occurs on a grand scale form event to gesture to setting, to emphasize and increase the impact of all events, gestures and settings. Lastly the film translated the negative impact of industrialization into the realm of aesthetic reception.


Federica Martella -- and can you relate the issue of colour to Belly of An Architect as well?

In Playtime, Tati presents us Paris as an ultra-modern city where all the buildings are characterless.
Mr. Hulot wanders through the town, lost and confused by the new uniform environment and its characteristics.
The tourists as well, supposed to visit the historic sites of the city, of which they see only the names written on the buses or their distorted images reflected in the glass doors of the modern office towers, are driven into cold and impersonal places. It seems that they prefer to visit a fair of modern inventions and walk through this part of the city made of glass and steel rather than find the way to get in touch with the heart of Paris. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triomphe and numerous other monuments of old French culture are only memories of the past and appear as icons on the wall of a modern “Drugstore”.

The particular use of image made by Tati, and therefore of color as an important part of it, creates comic situations, tells different stories, presents different characters, critiques the society, and contrasts the absence of interest of life.
All the images show a colorless Paris: from the beginning of the film we can notice an almost total absence of colors. Shades of gray are predominant not only in the settings but the costumes as well.
Colors appear to enrich particular situations in the plot:
- Astonishment: during the fair Mr. Hulot, mistaken by two ladies for a vendor, is asked to repair a lamp. With the big surprise of everybody, when he turns it on, the lamp is working flashing red light.
- Misunderstanding: the spiral swirl of the red arrow at the entrance of the Royal Garden brings the drunken man to go in anytime he is pushed out from the restaurant; the green light of the chemist sign interferes with the food displayed in the bar’s counter and with the choice of food made by the people.

At the end of the film the city shows all is variety of colors in Tati’s way of presenting life as a carousel. Transforming momentarily the city in a funfair, Tati replaces all the initial regrets about modernity, new technologies and a modern way of life with a hope. The problem of the contemporary man, his isolation in the modern city, is not about technology, that could be very useful, but in the way he uses it.

« Que signifient la réussite, le confort, le progrès, si personne ne connaît plus personne, si l'on enlève des immeubles faits à la main pour les remplacer par du béton, si l'on déjeune dans des vitrines au lieu de se retrouver dans de petits restaurants où l'on a envie de parler, si l'épicerie ressemble à la pharmacie ? »
(Jacques Tati. Le Monde, 24 avril 1958.)


Clementine Chang -- On Propriety:

In Playtime, Tati communicates a cold and mundane vision of future Paris. A general feeling of emptiness is made present in the film through the glass and steel architecture of the set and also through the Parisians’ mindless propriety.

On the opening night of a restaurant, everything that could go wrong seems to do so, but nonetheless ‘the show must go on’. For example, when Hulot at one point breaks the glass front door to the restaurant, the doorman maintains a proper front as he continues to open the invisible door by swinging the brass handle. This exemplifies the empty meaningless modern lifestyle that Tati tries to convey.

Later, another scene shows a waiter checking his proper appearance in a mirror with the plate of food he is to serve. He is much more concern with his perfect appearance as a waiter than his abilities. The portrayed propriety epitomizes the soulless social behaviour that lies in the cold metropolis of the future Paris.

Further, the waiter who rips his pants on one of the modern chairs becomes a reference figure as the restaurant sinks into deeper chaos. Other waiters, one by one, come to borrow his clean towel, his jacket, his shoe, and his bowtie. As he tries to hide behind the pillar, he starts to look like an exhibition of the evening’s mishaps. His presence meters the ironic atmosphere of the restaurant. As more things go wrong at the restaurant, the more the customers seem to enjoy themselves. It is clear that Tati is trying to communicate through propriety the absentmindedness and lack of substance that lies in future metropolis lifestyle.


Francesco Mancini

link to webpage and to the same as a pdf to preserve the formatting link


Andrea Krejcik

Playtime by Jacques Tati, is a film depicting modern Paris. Set in dull grey tonnes, the feel for the modern future is one of concrete, glass and repetition. Everything is sleek, making the character of Paris lost in the simplified forms built to update the city. There is a feel to return to the old ways of Paris within the film. Hints are droped throughout the film in subtle ways. In the clips of a man washing windows, the reflection of the old Paris can be seen. It shows that although a new form is built, the character of what once was will try to come through.

Reflections are used in many scenes throughout the movie. They display Tati’s desire to intrigue the viewer with unique shots by the film camera. The also remark on Tati’s concern for a fleeting character of Paris. Reflections in the glass appear as ghosts set in backdrop of the city that currently resdies. The images remind Paris about the beauty that had once flourished throughout the city, before modernism.


Liam Brown

Playtime is Tati’s commentary on modern-day Paris and the increasing trend for it to be alike with any other major world city, especially, as he points out with the group of main characters, in America. Uniformity then becomes a principle theme to the whole movie, in his depiction of buildings, people and events.

Specifically in an early portion of the film at the end of the 9-5 workday a group of gentlemen all leave their office, where they have been working throughout the day in
their small, confined cubicles that shut out the world. They cross out the street from the front door and directly into their cars, where they simultaneously open the doors, get in, and drive away. Their autonomy is lost completely to the routine of the working man. As Monsieur Hulot enters the Airport the entrance is a single door into the back of then board showing where the flights are going. There is no grand display, no recognition of the threshold into an otherwise important space. Instead the board, the machine, is hiding the person behind it, a person who although is situated in this monotonous environment is
exhibiting sparks of his personality in the intricate ballet that is his footwork as he navigates the counter top to serve people. This brings up an interesting element, which is the notion of optimism. That people are actually capable of autonomy, but that the modern world that they exist in on a regular basis is taking it away from them.

The final image shows the view of the city through the broken glass door, specifically the icon of the modern world, the faceless building that is found everywhere as a piece of international architecture. Behind the framed image is the club where people release themselves from the monotony of their everyday life. The chaos which ensues there is so acceptable because the rest of the day is so regulated. As the door is broken the sounds from the inside of the club, and the quiet of the coming day outside are mixed. The line is blurred between the two. This could be a variation of several significances, though that which is paramount is the idea that people must exist in both realms. They must keep their autonomy if they have any hope of being able to start the monotonous day again, and again.

All of these instances relate to one another in that there is a deficit of autonomous space. One zone of uniformity blends into the next, until ultimately everything is the same, at least in the sense that people are continuing through these spaces mindlessly carrying out a traced path. It is only after hours that they are able to find themselves, this however is a trade off to sleeping, and so what would you rather do? Sleep, and carry on your day of mindlessness, or be forever awake, but regain an identity.

  Tammy Chau  

Matt Bolen

The images of the nuns and priest which have been captured from Tati’s film, Playtime, are significant to both the film itself as well as the critical commentary which Tati makes about modern Paris.

The religious figures of priest and nun take on a role of juxtaposition within the film. The characters are inversely used to contrast the scenes which they appear in. In the case of the nuns, their swift consistent movement and flapping headpieces contrasts the still, sterile, and lifeless atmosphere of the modern building they are walking through. In the scene containing the priest, the opposite yet equal contrast is evident with the priest being the only calm and subdued element to a scene full of noise and chaos.

This use of religious figures as contrasting elements within the film ties directly to a critical commentary which Tati could possibly be making about the role and importance of religion in modern Paris. Tati comments on the lifeless nature of the modern architecture of Paris by juxtaposing it against the nuns who symbolize the ideals of purpose, vocation, and living everyday in the service of God.

The character of the priest is used to contrast the chaotic and confusing nature that seems to have overtaken the people of modern Paris. This chaotic nature is amplified by the Americans in this film. This could possibly be a judgment by Tati that the American influence on modern Paris is a negative one which causes chaos and confusion. His use of the priest as the only calm and collected figure within the scene could be viewed as a critical commentary which suggests that the backbone of modern Paris must be found in religion which can solve issues of chaos, confusion and fragmentation associated with modernism.


Olivia Keung

This image set depicts the spectacle that takes place in the modern city, in front of a society of consumers who stand by passively without participating, observing but not absorbing the images presented to them. The vehicles go around the circular road, advancing but arriving nowhere; passengers in the bus allow themselves to be driven without any awareness to their failure to progress.

While many of the scenes that take place on the streets or in buildings have very few people in them, there seems to be masses here, encased in their vehicles, an environment of disconnection. Even the women on the bus don’t seem to communicate. In such large numbers, people are not treated as individuals, but need to be organized as masses. In their cyclical movement, cars and people seem to be controlled by some larger mechanism of which no one is aware. The girl on the motercycle bobs up and down to the same rhythm of the carnival music that everyone else moves to.

At the same time, the circular movement represents a breaking free of the glass and steel grids. The film has come full circle to the morning, the tourists are back on their bus, but everyone seems a little more comfortable in their surroundings. Various splashes of red add to the playful carnival atmosphere, and they are almost a relief from the suffocating blue-grey colours that have set the tone of the rest of the film. The ice cream stand achieves the same defiance: its makeshift structure of cheap plywood and paper signage mock the sterile skyscrapers as it gives off a sense of familiarity and friendliness. It has inhabited an unexpected place: the parking lot. In an absurd way, it seems oblivious to any differences from its environment in the old city.


back to 443/646 fall 2004