Jacques Tati was such a man, and his Play Time is the fruit of ten years of concerted effort, an effort that left the popular French filmmaker bankrupt, homeless, without much by way of future projects, and without the rights to his previous films. Play Time was to be the follow-up to Tati's successful Mon Oncle, the 1958 comic vehicle featuring the filmmaker's beloved screen persona Monsieur Hulot. (M. Hulot first appeared in 1953's Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, a title that perhaps remains France's best-loved comedy.) Tati, always an adventurous director, was tired of the character, though, and longed for something larger - a movie, as he said, about "everyone." He accordingly developed an ambitious idea for a comedy that focused not on one person, but on dozens; the film was to be essentially plotless, dealing in a circuitous way with the search for a human heartbeat in the steel and glass of modern society. By 1959 he had formulated enough of an idea that contracts with his studio were signed and the quest for Play Time had begun.
Continue reading: Play Time Review
Tati was France's most treasured screen comedian, and Mr. Hulot's Holiday is widely considered his masterpiece. His major films centered on his screen alter-ego, the goofy, accident-prone M. Hulot, who smoked a pipe, walked with a Groucho-like gait, and wore a signature trenchcoat long before that garment bore any relation to flashers or, later, gun-wielding teens. As a plot, Mr. Hulot's Holiday recounts this character's summer vacation at a seaside resort. But the plot, in Tati, is just a skeleton upon which the gags are hung, and in Holiday these gags occur with Naked Gun-like frequency.
Continue reading: Mr. Hulot's Holiday Review
But in 1958 there was another kind of France wending its way into the Old World, and in Mon Oncle ("my uncle") Hulot's young nephew lives there. Attained by crossing over a broken down fence, this French neighborhood is ultra-modern and its architecture is automated and inhumanly chic. The plot of Mon Oncle, almost in its entirety, is that the young nephew prefers his eccentric uncle's company to that of his mother, who makes a frantic practice of keeping up with the Joneses, or his father, who works (where else?) in a plastics plant. But, as with all Tati, the jokes are in the details and not in the story.
Continue reading: Mon Oncle Review