Directed byJacques Tati
Written by
Produced byBernard Maurice
StarringJacques Tati
Edited byGérard Pollicand
Music byFrancis Lemarque
  • Specta Films
  • Jolly Film
Distributed by
  • SN Prodis (France)[1]
  • Unidis (Italy)[2]
Release dates
  • 16 December 1967 (1967-12-16) (France)
  • 29 March 1968 (1968-03-29) (Italy)
Running time
124 minutes
  • France
  • Italy
  • French
  • English
  • German

Playtime (stylized as PlayTime and also written as Play Time) is a 1967 comedy film directed by Jacques Tati. In the film, Tati again plays Monsieur Hulot, the popular character who had central roles in his earlier films Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953) and Mon Oncle (1958). However, Tati grew ambivalent towards playing Hulot as a recurring central role during production; he appears intermittently in Playtime, alternating between central and supporting roles.

Shot on 70 mm, the work is notable for its enormous set, which Tati had built specially for the film, as well as Tati's trademark use of subtle yet complex visual comedy supported by creative sound effects; dialogue is frequently reduced to the level of background noise.

Playtime is considered Tati's masterpiece and his most daring work. In 2022, Playtime was 23rd on the British Film Institute's critics' list and 41st in their directors' list of "Top 100 Greatest Films of All Time". The film was a financial failure upon release but is now widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.[3]


Playtime is set in a futuristic, hyperconsumerist Paris. The story is structured in six sequences, linked by two characters who repeatedly encounter one another over the course of a day: Barbara, a young American tourist visiting Paris with an American tourist group, and Monsieur Hulot, a befuddled Frenchman lost in the new modernity of Paris. The sequences are as follows:

Jacques Tati's M. Hulot in "Tativille"


When possible, Tati cast nonprofessionals. He wanted people whose inner essence matched their characters and who could move in the way he wanted.


In the 1960s, French president Charles de Gaulle made a vow to develop his country's economy and reform Paris into a modern city. Knocking down older houses in urban Right Bank districts, developers rebuilt parts of the city and its suburbs and put up modernized blocks of glass and steel in their place. High-rise structures were allowed within Paris for the first time, and their anonymous façades soured the City of Lights' historical atmosphere and represented an unsightly contrast to her famous monuments. The city of the future was on its way, and its expansion was modeled according to dull, functional, pointedly Americanized specifications.

During this time, filmmaker Jacques Tati, who had grown up in the earthy quarters of Paris and lived there most of his life, decided to make a film about the ache of losing his old Paris to a more contemporary cityscape. To accomplish this, Tati conceived a most ingenious and maniacal idea: he would build a city of his own design, on which he could shoot freely and have absolute control. His crew called it Tativille. [4]


The office set for Jacques Tati's Playtime anticipated the dominance of office cubicle arrangements by some 20 years. The set was redressed for the trade exhibition sequence.

Upon its release in 1967, PlayTime was the most expensive film ever made in France. And yet, it contains almost no story and its dialogue is mostly inconsequential. Like Tati's other pictures, the dialogue has been post-synchronized and its volume turned down to direct our attention to forms of behavior and visual gags in the impractical spaces he has chosen to depict. Fore, middle, and backgrounds are all in crisp focus and ready for our eyes to explore, occupied at times by, among a whole population of others, Tati's famous alter ego Monsieur Hulot.

Hulot first appeared in M. Hulot's Holiday (1953) and then Mon Oncle (1958). With his long-stemmed pipe, raincoat and hat, and his pants often too short, Hulot moves about somewhat lost outside of his "old quarter" of Paris, bemused and confounded by urbanization and modern gadgetry. An iconic figure as connected to Tati as the Little Tramp was to Charles Chaplin, Hulot also represented an artistic hindrance for Tati, who by the early sixties wanted to move beyond his beloved character and explore whole environments more than a Hulot-centric narrative and gags. Nevertheless, without Hulot's popularity, any commercial prospects for PlayTime would have been nonexistent, and so Hulot, although present in the film, has a minimal role. Like all characters and spaces within the frame, Hulot becomes part of the scenery; he disappears for long patches of screentime, seemingly lost in the bustle of the modernized world. [4]

The film is famous for its enormous, specially constructed set and background stage, known as "Tativille", which contributed significantly to the film's large budget, said to be 17 million francs (which would have been roughly 3.4 million US dollars in 1964). The set required a hundred workers to construct along with its own power plant. Budget crises and other disasters stretched the shooting schedule to three years, including 1.4 million francs in repairs after the set was damaged by storms.[5] Tati observed that the cost of building the set was no greater than what it would have cost to have hired Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren for the leading role.[5] Budget overruns forced Tati to take out large loans and personal overdrafts to cover ever-increasing production costs.

As Playtime depended greatly on visual comedy and sound effects, Tati chose to shoot the film using high-resolution 70 mm film, and a stereophonic soundtrack that was complex for its time.

To save money, some of the building facades and the interior of the Orly set were actually giant photographs. (The photographs also had the advantage of not reflecting the camera or lights.) The Paris landmarks Barbara sees reflected in the glass door are also photographs. Tati also used life-sized cutout photographs of people to save money on extras. These cutouts are noticeable in some of the cubicles when Hulot overlooks the maze of offices, and in the deep background in some of the shots at ground level from one office building to another.


Tati's enormous presentation would be shot in high-resolution 70mm, allowing the expansive real-world exteriors to dominate the frame. Tati's previous films were shot on actual locations, for PlayTime, Tati could not afford what it would cost to take over whole segments of a real-life city or airport, and no city or airport would shut itself down and submit to Tati's obsessive and exacting directorial style, wherein every detail was observed and laboured-over to meticulous effect.

Though his cameraman Jean Badal had proposed that Tati erect a building for the production and then sell it afterward, Tati had something more blindly idealistic in mind. His newly developed company Specta-Films would create massive buildings and offices, roads and streetlights, and even an airport. But rather than make these structures functional spaces that could be resold afterward, Tati intended its use for the French film industry. His studio-set, famously dubbed "Tativille" by the crew, would be built on the southeast corner of Paris, on a wasteland at Saint-Maurice.

Construction began in September 1964 and met with almost immediate delays and budgetary problems, and would not be finished until March 1965. Shooting began in April 1965 with a planned 178-day shoot, but lasted until October 1966. During the astonishingly protracted 365 days of actual shooting, minus vacations and stoppages, filming halted sometimes for weeks or months at a time for any number of reasons: bad weather, non-prime lighting conditions, or more commonly because Tati's money had run out. Tati borrowed funds from government financiers, banks, against Specta-Films' assets, and eventually his personal fortune. Soon he turned to friends and family. Public figures and admirers contributed too, but it was not enough. Tati eventually signed away the rights to his three previous pictures. The final budget for PlayTime was reportedly anywhere between five and twelve million francs; though many bills went unpaid by the time production had wrapped.

Tati decided to use 70mm panoramic stock whereas any other of his pictures were all shot in a box-like aspect ratio of 1.33:1. While the wider strip of film allowed for a greater sense of detail within the frame, the director's choice was impelled by a desire to implement a rectangular widescreen format, since his other films had all been presented in the more square 35mm standard of the era. Larger format film stock, especially 70mm, was usually reserved for larger-than-life box-office spectacles filled with grandiose imagery and crowd-pleasing adventure, such as Ben-Hur (1959) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Tati, however, did not employ the full 2.2:1 aspect ratio of 70mm, instead narrowing it slightly for a projected ratio of 1.85:1.

Today, finding a movie theatre with a 70mm projector capable of capturing its full visual bounty is rarer still. However, Tati described his implementation as follows: "What I find extraordinary is that the device allows the viewer to have a fuller appreciation of a mere pin dropping in a large empty room." And so, Tati's use of the frame does not direct the viewer toward the action as Hollywood spectacles do; rather, he carefully avoids close-ups, which he dreaded, and presents a whole environment onscreen in which the purpose of the scene is not emphasized or visually underlined. Our eyes are meant to explore, to regard the frame's inhabitants and take note of the countless little scenarios and gags that Tati has dreamed up for us. Such a methodology remains unique in cinema and a testament to Tati's art, and his ongoing pursuit to help his audiences identify the comic delights of everyday life.[4]


The apartments: Cubicles for living, standardized behavior on view (detail of a screenshot)

Tati wanted the film to be in color but look like it was filmed in black and white – an effect he had previously employed to some extent in Mon Oncle. The predominant colors are shades of grey, blue, black, and greyish white. Green and red are used as occasional accent colors: for example, the greenish hue of patrons lit by a neon sign in a sterile and modern lunch counter, or the flashing red light on an office intercom. It has been said that Tati had one red item in every shot.

Except for a single flower stall, there are no genuine green plants or trees on the set, though dull plastic plants adorn the outer balconies of some buildings, including the restaurant (the one location shot apart from the road to the airport). Thus, when the character of Barbara arrives at the Royal Garden restaurant in an emerald green dress seen as "dated" by the other whispering female patrons clothed in dark attire, she visually contrasts not only with the other diners, but also with the entire physical environment of the film. As the characters in the restaurant scene begin to lose their normal social inhibitions and revel in the unraveling of their surroundings, Tati intensifies both color and lighting accordingly: late arrivals to the restaurant are less conservative, arriving in vibrant, often patterned clothing.

Tati detested close-ups, considering them crude, and shot in 65 mm film[6] so that all the actors and their physical movements would be visible, even when they were in the far background of a group scene. He used sound rather than visual cues to direct the audience's attention; with the large image size, sound could be both high and low in the image as well as left and right.[7] As with most Tati films, sound effects were utilized to intensify comedic effect; Leonard Maltin wrote that Tati was the "only man in movie history to get a laugh out of the hum of a neon sign!"[8] Almost the entire film was dubbed after shooting; the editing process took nine months.

Philip Kemp has described the film's plot as exploring "how the curve comes to reassert itself over the straight line".[7] This progression is carried out in numerous ways. At the beginning of the film, people walk in straight lines and turn on right angles. Only working-class construction workers (representing Hulot's "old Paris", celebrated in Mon Oncle) and two music-loving teenagers move in a curvaceous and naturally human way. Some of this robot-like behavior begins to loosen in the restaurant scene near the end of the film, as the participants set aside their assigned roles and learn to enjoy themselves after a plague of opening-night disasters.

Throughout the film, the American tourists are continually lined up and counted, though Barbara keeps escaping and must be frequently called back to conform with the others. By the end, she has united the curve and the line (Hulot's gift, a square scarf, is fitted to her round head); her straight bus ride back to the airport becomes lost in a seemingly endless traffic circle that has the atmosphere of a carnival ride.

The extended apartment sequence, where Tati's character visits a friend and tours his apartment, is notable. Tati keeps his audience outside of the apartment as we look inside the lives of these characters. In September 2012, Interiors, an online journal that is concerned with the relationship between architecture and film, released an issue that discussed how space is used in this scene. The issue highlights how Tati uses the space of the apartment to create voyeurs out of his audience.[9]


Tati's financial problems did not improve after PlayTime‘s first showings. On its original French release, Playtime was commercially unsuccessful, failing to earn back a significant portion of its production costs. The film was entered into the 6th Moscow International Film Festival, where it won a Silver Prize.[10]

Results were the same upon the film's eventual release in the United States in 1973 (even though it had finally been converted to a 35 mm format at the insistence of US distributors and edited down to 103 minutes). Though Vincent Canby of The New York Times called Playtime "Tati's most brilliant film", it was no more a commercial success in the US than in France. Debts incurred as a result of the film's cost overruns eventually forced Tati to file for bankruptcy.

Complaints that the film was too long resulted in Tati, who could hardly afford to hire an editor, cutting down individual copies of the film from the original runtime of 140 minutes to under 120 minutes for general release. Tati assured the film community that the original 70mm negative remained in his possession, but after various re-releases in the decades to come, the longest cut yet released runs 124 minutes. At the time, Tati's artistic integrity toward the project was both inspiring and debilitating. He intended PlayTime to be something new, a "spectacle cinématographique" featuring an exclusive first-run showing with reservable seats, something more along the lines of live theater.

He refused to provide some cinemas unequipped with 70mm projectors an altered 35mm version, and audiences further confounded by the lacking presence of the beloved M. Hulot added to the lukewarm responses. After all, Hulot barely utters a word in the film; although Tati's character says little in earlier incarnations, he at least spoke. And, in fact, the film's only dialogue consists of background chatter that amounts to ambient noise.

Moreover, Tati had become worn down not only by the production itself, but by the negative press surrounding its ostentatiousness. That he refused interviews or to allow journalists on his set worsened matters. Negative press both before and after its release soured audience reactions, and Tati's financial troubles led to bankruptcy when he failed to secure a full U.S. distribution. Worse, shortly after its release, France was struck with the student revolts of May 1968 and everything else seemed unimportant. Not until years later, often after the required multiple viewings of PlayTime, did audiences and film scholars realize the film's true mastery. In their 2012 poll of critics and directors, Sight & Sound, published by the British Film Institute, put PlayTime on their prestigious "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" list. [4]

Playtime is regarded as a great achievement by many critics. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 98% based on 54 reviews, with an average rating of 8.9/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "A remarkable achievement, Playtime packs every scene with sight gags and characters that both celebrates and satirizes the urbanization of modern life."[11] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 99 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[12]


  1. ^ Collaboration
  2. ^ English dialogue


  1. ^ "PlayTime de Jacques Tati (1967)". UniFrance. Retrieved 2 May 2023.
  2. ^ "Play Time – Tempo di divertimento". Cinematografo (in Italian). Retrieved 2 May 2023.
  3. ^ "The Greatest Films of All Time". BFI. Retrieved 17 February 2024.
  4. ^ a b c d Eggert, Brian (7 December 2014). "Playtime: Deep Focus Review". Deep Focus Review. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  5. ^ a b Bellos, David (2001). Jacques Tati: His Life and Art. London: Harvill Press. pp. 293–294. ISBN 978-1-8604-6924-4.
  6. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (18 August 2009). "The Dance of Playtime". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  7. ^ a b Kemp, Philip (2010). Playtime (DVD). BFI Video Publishing.
  8. ^ Reichert, Jeff (27 June 2010), "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday", Reverse Shot, Museum of the Moving Image
  9. ^ Ahi, Mehruss Jon; Karaoghlanian, Armen (September 2012). "Playtime". Interiors. Retrieved 11 July 2018 – via Issuu.
  10. ^ "1969 year". Moscow International Film Festival. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  11. ^ "Playtime". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2 May 2023.
  12. ^ "Playtime". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved 14 March 2024.