Edith Kramer was senior film curator and Pacific Film Archive director from 1983 until her retirement in 2005.
Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, Rita Maiden, France Rumilly,
An apotheosis of modern design as both subject matter and technique, Playtime envisions a 1960s Paris as sleek and strange as something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey (released the following year). This is the city as a terrarium, a realm of glassy reflections where the distinction between interior and exterior is often not seen, only heard. (As always, Tati’s manipulation of sound is extraordinary.) Everything is at right angles, except M. Hulot, whose ordinariness makes him conspicuous. But he isn’t a protagonist, any more than the American tourists who wander through the film are; as Tati said, “Playtime is nobody.” Or everybody. The International Style metropolis that the film observes with wonder was in fact an enormous, carefully constructed set into which the filmmaker sunk every resource he had; a box-office failure, Playtime bankrupted him. Now it is recognized as his masterpiece. The big screen is essential to the experience of the film in all its details, which, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, accrue to “become cosmically funny—comic in a philosophical sense.” And for Tati, “The more the picture continues, the more the people dance.”