Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Playtime (1967)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Playtime (1967, Fr.)

In Jacques Tati's classic and stylized masterpiece - it was a semi-plotless, almost-silent comedy about the day-in-the-life misadventures of the filmmaker's regular bumbling character, his alter-ego Mr. Hulot; it was the last of a trilogy of Hulot films, including Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953, Fr.) and Mon Oncle (1958, Fr.); although made in color, the colors were washed out, making it appear black and white (with subdued shades of grey, blue, black, and greyish white); there were many deliberately, rarely-seen views of the actual Paris, mostly in reflections, such as the Eiffel Tower - unfortunately the film was a major box-office flop:

  • the opening scene was of an imposing cold, gray glass-and-steel concrete, ultra-modern Parisian building (one part of a massive movie set that comprised a modern-day airport, office building and restaurant with lots of plate-glass, steel, and window reflections); it was a disorienting maze of noises and people coming and going, and arriving at the airport (with overemphasized sound effects, e.g., slick floors, loud and echoing footsteps and conversations, loudspeaker announcements, elevators and escalators, buzzing neon lights, etc.)
  • a gray-coated, dark-haired American lady who had recently arrived at the Orly Airport in Paris - Barbara (Barbara Dennek) was observed; she was part of a chatty group of American ladies led by a disgruntled tour guide, who were brought through Customs and then escorted to a bus to take them to their hotels in downtown Paris; it was the start of her wanderings through a nightmarish vision of the 'City of Lights' (with homogenous, uniform, and drab buildings); she only knew she was actually in Paris during sightseeing when she viewed the landmark Eiffel Tower in a highly-polished glass door reflection
  • the character of Monsieur Hulot (director Jacques Tati) - with his overcoat and never-utilized umbrella, pipe and hat, first arrived at a bus-stop asking for directions, and then wandering aimlessly; he was lost and overwhelmed in the maze of the monolithic buildings; he stumbled up to the entrance of the imposing STLC office skyscraper - it was the beginning of a funny scene of Hulot seeking an appointment or job interview with Mr. Giffard (Georges Montant);
  • the doorman told him to wait in the lobby for another man to greet him; far down a long corridor, the individual was first seen as a distant speck as he noisily walked toward Hulot (over a 30-second time period); there were more exaggerated noises: squishy, deflating and uncomfortable cushioned black chairs, buzzing lights, slippery floors, sounds of heavy traffic nearby, and a beeping elevator (that accidentally took him to a higher floor)
  • as he continued to wait, Hulot looked down upon a maze of dozens of office cubicles from a descending escalator (watch the scene carefully - it was an obvious example of bureaucratic inefficiency); outside, the tour group disembarked - he often found himself trailed by or near the American sightseeing tour group - and by Barbara herself - whom he was often interwoven with and linked to
Mr. Hulot's Confused Befuddlement in Metropolitan Paris


Inside Skyscraper

Waiting Near a Noisy Corridor
  • the befuddled Hulot detoured to visit the complex's international tech expo or exhibition hall, where the latest gizmo-gadgets were being demonstrated; at the same time, the expo was attended by Barbara's tour group - (i.e., there were demos of squishy cushioned chairs, an "electric broom" (vacuum cleaner) with two headlights, a Greek-styled trash can, a sound-proofed door that silently slammed, etc.); Hulot was repeatedly mistaken as being one of the customers, and at one point was thought to be one of the exhibitors of a bright red light
  • the film's on-going joke was that there were people who looked like Hulot (Marc Monjou), or were mistaken for Hulot, or were actual co-veterans from the Army greeting Hulot
  • one of the film's stunning shots was a view of highly-compartmentalized, box-like, glass-fronted apartment rooms (from floor to ceiling), a Rear Window-like view seen from the street level - they were completely mundane, impersonal, and conformist, without any privacy; at one point, all four cubicle-sized units were in one shot, each with inhabitants watching TV - or seemingly interacting with each other through the wall
An Apartment Four-Plex: With Floor-to-Ceiling Display-Style Glass Walls
  • a group of workmen slowly struggled with a huge pane of glass on a second-floor, while pedestrians watched the silhouetted pantomime from the street level
  • in the climactic, lengthy slapstick and sight-gag-filled second half - there were visually-comic sequences of opening night at a fancy, modernized new hotel - the Royal Garden, with a high-class restaurant-nightclub; it was still under construction, unfinished and behind schedule; as the glamorously-dressed guests arrived, the overflow of guests created mishaps and problems, such as:

    (1) a newly-installed dance floor tile stuck to the Maitre'D's shoe and had to be chiseled off by workers
    (2) the kitchen serving window was too small for most dish platters
    (3) there was a short-circuit in the floor light fixtures
    (4) recently-painted yet stylish black chairs (with the spiky-crown-shaped logo of the restaurant) ruined the back of a man's suit
    (5) there were multiple warmings, pepperings, and bastings of a platter of food (the house special, the Tubot à la Royale") that was eventually wheeled over to a guest's table on a portable grill
    (6) wooden banners hanging down in the bar area obstructed the bartender's view of guests
    (7) the metal chairs ripped many of the waiters' white uniforms
    (8) a plate-glass entry door shattered - forcing the doorman, following Hulot's pretend example, to open and close the non-existent 'invisible' door for guests and move the round brass door handle in mid-air
The 'Invisible' Glass Door Trick

Glass Door Shattered

Hulot's Opening of Non-Existent Door

Doorman Following Hulot's Example

(9) a giant pillar holding the AC unit blocked the main passageway into the restaurant - Hulot accidentally bumped into it
(10) the AC unit began to malfunction - guests were sweating and iced foods were melting; the AC instructions weren't in French; and when turned back on, it blasted cold air everywhere
(11) a large section of the restaurant's ceiling collapsed
(12) after everything devolved into frenzied chaos and because there was no door or doorman, many (including drunks) were directed to walk in off the street and join the elite crowd; Barbara (in a dark emerald green dress), who was in attendance with the tour group, took to a piano to provide entertainment when the jazz band left the stage

  • in a sight gag, a collared priest stood below the letter "O" of a DRUGSTORE's neon sign - appearing to have a halo
  • by the next morning in the film's conclusion, there were now colorful and playful views of a clogged automobile roundabout, including the restaurant's revelers and the tour bus that joined the normal traffic; the crowded road jam was viewed as a joyful carousel (accompanied by merry-go-round calliope circus music) and populated by an endless stream of cars; keeping the same rhythm, there were cars in a repair bay moving up and down (viewed from the interior of the tour bus)

Cars in Roundabout Traffic Circle

Repair Bay: Automobiles Going Up and Down
  • there was a striking and inventive image of the reflection of the sky and the passing tour bus in a tilted window being washed
  • the last visual, subtle metaphors of beautiful uniformity were Hulot's parting gesture of two heartfelt souvenirs, gifts or going-away presents for Barbara as she returned by coach bus to the airport; the two gifts were a white scarf with images of Parisian monuments, and a flower sprig of lily of the valley; the flower's complementary twin was a similarly-shaped row of curved Parisian city street lamps lining the highway to the airport
Two Gifts: The Scarf and The Flower Sprig - Streetlights

Barbara's (Barbara Dennek) Arrival in American Tour Group - Leaving Orly Airport

Hulot Taken on an Unwanted Elevator Ride

Looking Down on Dozens of Office Cubicles

Reflection of Eiffel Tower As Barbara Entered Glass Door

Marketing of an "Electric Broom"

Demonstration of a Red Light by Hulot

Workers with a Gigantic Pane of Glass

A Drugstore's Sickening Buzzing Green Neon Light Illuminated a Cheap Corner Diner's Food Counter

Hulot Bumped into Pillar Blocking Restaurant's Passageway

Collapse of Restaurant Ceiling

Barbara at the Restaurant in Green Dress at Piano

Collared Priest with Halo

The Ingenious Image of a Window Washer - and the Reflection of the Sky in the Tilted Glass


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