From Film Comment, Winter 1971-72. This was my second Paris Journal for that magazine, and my first extended effort to write about Playtime. -– J.R.
All five of Jacques Tati’s films have musical backgrounds of such surpassing unsubtlety that they are insipid even by Muzak standards; processions of cute kids, dogs, and middle-class nonentities that are not so much mildly parodied (on the surface) as embraced and advertised; the kind of comic ambiance that usually attracts either a Saturday afternoon family crowd or no one at all. Of the four that I have seen, two (MON ONCLE and TRAFIC) repeatedly grate on my nerves, and one (LES VACANCES DE MONSIEUR HULOT), after several viewings, has come to seem like an enduring classic. For the other, PLAYTIME, I would gladly trade the collective works of Fellini, Bergman, and all but the best of Godard.
Four years after its opening in Paris, PLAYTIME remains, at this writing, unseen and virtually unknown in the states. The European reception has generally been so cold that distributors are probably afraid to go near it. To speak even of its existence here is to conjure up a ghost: unquestionably Tati’s most expensive and ambitious film — requiring, according to Télé-Ciné, “ten years of reflection, three years of preparation and shooting,” and filmed in 70 mm and stereophonic sound — it already seems destined to share the fate of extravagant commercial failures of the silent era like INTOLERANCE, GREED, and SUNRISE.… Read more »