If it is true that God is in the details, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe asserts, then Jacques Tati’s films are architectonic temples. (1) Tati’s work is replete with images of the anonymity that seems so prevalent in modern technological life. But anonymity in Tati’s films can equally be interpreted to reflect the status and relative position of objects in the life of his characters. Thus the comic nature of objects is viewed as such because there are human subjects from which they are differentiated and which they ultimately affect. Tati infuses his films with a brilliant array of broken objects, curious trinkets, and overly complicated hardware. But this is what makes the universe of Monsieur Hulot (Tati) replete with meaning. Hulot is something of a magnifying glass that amplifies the importance of everyday objects through his insatiable curiosity. Hulot walks the city armed with the curiosity that only some tourists and poets can possess. His glance is always glued to the mundane and seeming trivial nuances of everyday life. Yet he does not readily give away this impression when we are introduced to him. At first, we see a quirky character that is witness to a multitude of simultaneously occurring phenomena. But as the films progress we begin to see that Hulot is at the centre of these things, perhaps not necessarily physically, but through his ability to draw the viewer’s attention to them. For instance, in Playtime (1967) there is the difficulty of regulating the air conditioner/heater just right; hilarity in the crown imprint that is left on the back of people’s shirts; and the objects falling out from Hulot’s pocket’s when he hangs upside down from a tree in Traffic. In addition, there is the scene of Hulot’s sister turning on a gaudy fish-fountain only when guests are coming in Mon Oncle (1958), and his smoking, backfiring old car in Les Vacances de M. Hulot (Mr Hulot’s Holiday, 1953).

Hulot is the consummate outsider looking in. While he is not totally inept at modern life, his is nevertheless a poetic look at the details that inform such a world. But Hulot is also an antidote to the overly aggressive and cynical view that takes technical or material progress for granted. In seeming “behind the times”, he is able to take in the full splendour of the meaning of the things that surround him. Hulot’s confusion works well as a vehicle for modern technology and gadgetry. He is shy and unassuming, and always out of place. This is what the viewer gathers by seeing him going about disoriented and interacting with people and things. However, Hulot himself shows no antipathy toward technology. He is simply amused by it all. In this respect, he is no different than most people and thus he fits the bill of being an “everyman”. Being in alien surroundings does not cause him strife. His manner of being is jovial and friendly, and bursting with curiosity.



Playtime opens with a shot of white puffy clouds enveloped by an infinitely blue sky. There is angelic music playing. There is also a shot of an ultra-modern glass structure. But the entire cityscape we see is a set. If this is to be Paris, this is only conveyed by a reflection of the Eiffel Tower in a plane of glass. Is one to gather from this that this modern “Paris” can in fact be any modern city? More anonymity. Yet this is conceivable given that Tati much like Jean-Pierre Melville is a poet of moving pictures. The set itself serves as an arena for the theme of the film: whether we control technology or vice versa? But another recurring theme in Tati’s work is that of confusion. He pokes fun at what appears to be a humanity lost in its own glowing material progress. Yet Tati does not offer an ideological format in which to reject technology or science. Instead, he cites examples of how human beings have become, whether consciously or not dependent on machinery. Part of this confusion – not alienation, as some more politically minded critics would argue – comes about due to the dynamic and vibrant nature of the modern world. And thus we see Hulot as possessing that most characteristic quality of modern man: adaptability.

The airport terminal in Playtime, for instance, has people parading across the terminal floor. One is left to reflect as to the final destination of such masses of humanity. Tati poeticises the human environment. Perhaps there is no greater indication of this than to witness how the melancholic musical score at the start of Mr Hulot’s Holiday and the quote where the viewer is enticed to enjoy himself create a mood of renunciation to life itself. At the start of Playtime, a group of lively female tourists is lead down an escalator and out to a waiting bus. They are vibrant and excited to see Paris. At this point, it is important to stress the very fact that Tati’s work has very little dialogue. This technique, which can be said to be half taken from mime and half from the era of the silent film, emphasizes the often “mute” and often unnoticeable qualities of everyday life. This is highlighted by focusing on the nature of travel, in this instance. Instead of dialogue, he employs a lot of incidental background sounds of ongoing conversations. Tati’s films can be likened to the sounds of an orchestra warming up. However, most of these sounds and conversations are muffled and Indecipherable.

This quiet or muffled world of Tati’s films is a central ingredient in his ability to call attention to everyday things. It is a rather nuanced stroke of genius that in a world of excessive noise, Tati should concentrate on the seemingly unimportant facets of such a world. He strips the human environment to its bare minimum. He exorcises conversation, as if to suggest that today there is already too much talking. Also gone is the capacity to view or “know” any character from the inside out. Tati hardly makes use of the close-up. Is this perhaps not one of the central characteristics of the 20th Century and especially of the post-World War II world: that few are willing or capable of knowing themselves or others from within? Consider what Rilke has to say about this point in one of his letters dated 3 October 1907:

Is it really true when the whole world now pretends to understand him and his pictures? Must not the art-dealers and art-critics feel hopelessly bewildered or indifferent towards this dear zealot, in whom something of St. Francis had come to life again? (2)

Do these characters ever actually converse? Do they try to make sense of the coming and goings of the people who they encounter. In Playtime, Hulot greets another man at the lobby of the office building while awaiting their respective appointments. They notice each other only because of the strange noises that the air in the cushions in the modern black chairs make. In stripping the world to what appear to be comic or incoherent sounds, Tati focuses the viewers attention on some aspects of modern existence that are readily taken for granted. Hulot walks the streets and experiences the beach in Mr Hulot’s Holiday with the vibrant freshness of one who does so for the first time. An interesting question that surfaces in Tati’s work is: Who notices all of this? This mass confusion is part of the intrinsic charm of his work.

Les Vacances de M. Hulot

When we take into consideration all of the nuances that fill Tati’s screen, beside the specific activity that Hulot is engaged in, we then come to realize that few people notice much about the reality that surrounds them in Tati’s films. This is undeniably true of his films – and one suspects that this might be equally true of the post-modern world. The absence of this sensibility begs the question of just to whom is the action occurring? Undoubtedly some of this attention is cantered on Hulot, but a great amount goes unnoticed by the other characters. There is a sense that any alert person would notice the crown imprints on the backs of people’s shirts in Playtime, for instance. When this is finally noticed by the American, he uses it to make it a condition for admission to his “private club” at the back of the Royal Garden restaurant. Yet no one seems to notice or wonder where these crown marks have come from. And just who is this man who allows people to enter based on this distinguishing mark? Are we so self-absorbed not to realise that the doorman of the restaurant in Playtime does in fact not have a door to hold up given that the glass was smashed? But this absence of attention is precisely what garners the laughs in Tati’s work.

Tati seems to suggest that such things take place everywhere and at all times, except that most people do not notice them. Philosophically, this line of thinking begs the question of what the world is really like when not being observed. It also seems as if Tati establishes this by making the viewer the omniscience observer who witnesses all, but who cannot interfere in the action. If we could only tell the restaurant patrons that the ice bucket is really filled with pieces of glass and not ice.

Once we see the buses driving away from the airport, we are treated to a lovely shot of what is a post-modern world that could really be anywhere, even though we see French-language signs. Throughout his work, Tati uses ‘arrows’ as symbols to suggest the confusion of modernity. The endless array of arrows that guide drivers to their respective destinations are, of course, exaggerated to convey this sense of spatial confusion. But they are also visual signs of the giving over of our responsibility and freedom to technology. It seems reasonable to argue that the more arrows, the more confused the characters become. However, we must also say that the beauty of this disorientation is that everyone eventually finds their way. For instance, in Traffic the arrows are strewn throughout the entirety of the film, and are often directly responsible for creating havoc.

Tati’s films resemble Federico Fellini’s at least in one sense: both directors depict a world-as-spectacle. Fellini develops this theme more so than Tati, but both equally showcase a poetic respect for the chaotic contingencies of human reality. Both directors possess a Borges-like desire to view human existence as if always in motion, as if moving through a labyrinthine maze. In both cases we find that at every bend we encounter the radiance of possibility, both literally and figuratively. And in both men light plays a central role in the discernment of reality. But in Tati’s films the contrast between light and dark is truly nonexistent, given that most scenes take place outdoors. The brilliant splendour of Playtime promises a level of joviality and optimism that is admirable in filmmaking. The interior of the tour bus is bright and modern, with a partial glass roof. The camera is angled in such a way as to view hundreds of cars in the airport’s parking lot. From here, Tati treats the viewer to a slow-moving procession of cars and buses on the highway that becomes a kind of ballet of modernity. This ballet of motion resembles the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), where Strauss’ music is made to accompany the movement of artificial centrifugal force. Playtime is a film replete with possibility and chance encounters; couple this with the brightness of cityscapes and one sees Hulot as a restless poet, while the rest of the other characters are comfortably settled into daily existence.


M. Hulot, who is always played by Tati himself, is greeted by an old doorman at another post-modern building. The doorman can’t seem to figure out how the highly complicated switchboard works. He refers to this device as an “electrical thingamajigs”. I can’t help but imagine that the age of the doorman is coincidental, given that he is juxtaposed with an ultramodern electrical control panel of sorts. This scene carefully captures the passage of time by reminding us that while today it is an old man who looks on in bewilderment at the electrical panel, tomorrow it will be we having to deal with some as yet unforeseen creation.

The doorman makes Hulot wait in the lobby for an official, who basically walks him over several feet to a modern and austere waiting room that is decorated with pictures of old men, presumably the board of directors of the corporation. While there, Hulot begins to fidget with the cushions of the furniture that appear to be air-filled. Hulot passes the time waiting by studying the demeanour of another gentleman, who is also waiting. Later, he walks into a tiny room to view an eye-catching “painting” that turns out to be an elevator. In the next scene, we see Hulot opening a door and unsuspectingly entering into what appears to be a large round-table meeting of some kind. This works well as a symbol that Hulot is constantly entering into alien worlds.

In a very funny scene, M. Hulot is seen flagging down a Mr Giffard (Georges Montant), the man whom we already met in the lobby. While he thinks that he is waving at Giffard, it turns out that Giffard is really behind him in the same building and what Hulot sees across the hall is only a reflection in a mirror. As this confusion is unravelling, Hulot is being dragged unto a group of people visiting some space exposition. But how best to view reality than through an indirect glance? Isn’t this, then, the role of art and literature for instance? In viewing reality in this way, we come to view our world and ourselves in a detached and unified way that we rarely encounter in its immediacy. Cinema works best as a form of mirror; even when this mirror is not too accurate, it nevertheless necessitates that we pay attention to ourselves across a spatial-temporal detachment. Art unifies the metaphysical field of possibility for us in such a way that enriches our awareness of ourselves. But this task is never exhaustive; it is merely representative of some select aspects of human existence. Cinema can help to capture the essence of the atomic, temporal structure of life in a condensed, but vital fashion.

But having said that, we must also consider what it is that the viewer must bring to cinema, the patron to the value of art, in order to make this an enlightening, or at worst a fulfilling, experience? If I am correct in arguing that Tati’s audience is sooner or later made to exercise something of the Hulot in them while viewing him re-discover the world, we must then also ask how much? And just how much does reality like to hide? Parmenides’ assertion that reality is objective, even though ambiguous, is based on the foundation that “reality likes to hide”. But to hide does not mean to trick, dissuade or confuse the rational process. Reality’s objectivity is measured in its universal qualities, but so too is its demand on the knower. When we stand before a work of art, there is only so much that the work can convey to us. Music, too, can bring out exalted emotions. And equally true we can say that a contemplative work of philosophy allows us to verify the intuitive nature of essences. These experiences all speak to the sublime in the human condition. Yet these are felt experiences that cannot easily be explained away. Our communicating these experiences, wherever this is possible, is always a secondary process, and one that has nothing to do with the immediately lived æsthetic experience. As objective viewers – and by this I merely mean to be alien to the truth that a work of art conveys – we are asked to exercise a level of insight and emotion that we might not readily possess. Outside of respective technical competence, to understand the æsthetic process – that is, the intuitive conditions that lead to its objectification – the viewer must make an effort to meet artistic vision on its own terms. It is a futile and pretentious notion that pretends to understand wholeheartedly the sublime underpinning of æsthetic intuition. Instead, a good-willed attempt must be made to know the artist from within.

Parmenides writes in fragment 1: “Who come to our house with mares that carry you, welcome; for it is no ill fortune that sent you forth to travel this route (for it lies far indeed from the beaten track of men).” (3) The fact that truth may lie so far from the beaten path suggests an embracing of the metaphysics of the difficult. This is a philosophical attitude that asks: And just what is my part in the search for truth and understanding? But in Parmenides’ poem the decision to transcend the “world of seeming” for that of truth is a vital decision that seeks knowledge, or salvation for the suitor. But often lost in commentary of Parmenides is that this entire process, or pressing desire for understanding, springs from an intuitive need.

Thus what we receive from Tati’s films is proportionate to our ability to engage what is present, but this is also equally true of any other engaging æsthetic form. In some respects, Tati’s films resemble a primal formalism where the subject tries to make sense of the objective – a perspectival aspect of human reality. Unlike traditional films where the use of dialogue and narrative are exercised, Tati’s work forces us to employ an inquisitive level that is most natural to a child. Anyone who has ever watched a Tati film alongside a child quickly realizes this point. Yet in spite of the absence of dialogue, Tati’s films convey a great deal of meaning that, even though seemingly inarticulate at the patent level, nevertheless does exist at the latent level. Children quickly point out such things.

When an American female tourist named Barbara (Barbara Denneck) goes out of her way to take a picture of a flower vendor, which the tourist considers to be an authentic display of French culture, the implicit comedic comment is that this same scene can be found in many places. Barbara is called by another woman in her tour group to enter the expo with her. “Barbara, come on, look how modern it is. They even have American stuff.” As she opens the glass door, there is a beautiful reflection of the Eiffel tower that momentarily distracts Barbara’s attention. Even though this scene is short, it is nevertheless a very interesting one because somehow Barbara is brought back to a sense of place. She is quickly reminded that she is in Paris. Once inside the expo, the women are treated to an electric room which has headlights, a fluted column which turns out to be a garbage can and totally silent doors. One vendors states: “Our motto: ‘Slam your door in total silence’”. An oxymoron, some may suggest. Perhaps? But it’s a modern one at that.

While still inside the expo, two women confuse Hulot with an employee and ask him to fix their lamp. Of course, Hulot does not protest, but his curiosity and willingness to help often gets the best of him. But the interesting aspect of these scenes that take place inside the exposition is indicative of Tati’s paying attention to everyday objects as Hulot’s curiosity is engaged by the novelties on display there.


Also implicit in Tati’s films is a sense of timing. His characters never really converse with each other. Instead, they are often involved in either giving or taking directions, pointing or gesticulating in the manner of Mediterranean people. Movement, too, is a staple of Tati’s work. Albeit, movement in Tati’s films seems like a meticulous, macrocosmic tribute to the ant world, where, viewed from a distance, the ants all seem to know where they are going. Everyone is always in motion, people entering or leaving buildings, doors opening and closing – but always there is motion. His films can be simply described as a poetic depiction of dynamic processes. In this respect, it is also important to point out the significance of the continuation of M. Hulot’s adventures. Tati’s films are cantered on the character of Hulot, his characteristic off-cantered gait leading him on. Because M. Hulot appears in what are considered Tati’s best four films, his character is subsequently much more developed than would appear. However, none of these films are sequels. Each film has Hulot undergoing new adventures, or what amounts to a new set of comedic circumstances. We know that he has been to the army, that he has a sister and, surprisingly enough, if we are to judge from his quirky walk, he also knows how to drive a car. Whether Tati intended to have M. Hulot in all of his full feature films from the beginning it is hard to say. However, to better make sense of this character it is necessary to follow him throughout his exploits. This can also be said of The Thin Man series, for instance. (4) The sophisticated and well-scripted comedy team of William Powell and Myrna Loy appeared in six films as Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) beginning with The Thin Man (W. S. Van Dyke) in 1934 and ending with Song of the Thin Man (Edward Buzzell) in 1947.

Mr Hulot’s Holiday

A clear indication of what Hulot’s character was to become is found at the start of Mr Hulot’s Holiday. Already in his first embodiment as M. Hulot, Tati informs us that a central aspect of Hulot’s character is that of a study in leisure. Mr Hulot’s Holiday begins with a long shot of waves breaking in a deserted sea accompanied by a melancholic jazz score. From the very beginning a caption informs the viewer:

Mr. Hulot is off for a week by the sea to take a seat behind his camera and you can spend it with him. Don’t look for a plot for a holiday is meant purely for fun and if you look for it you will find more fun in ordinary life than in fiction.

So relax and enjoy yourselves. See how many people you can recognize. You might even recognize yourself. (5)

Les Vacances de M. Hulot

The theme of leisure is one of a handful that is central to Tati’s work. There is a clear correlation between leisure and the gentle, slow and deliberate movements that Tati is so found of portraying. The mesmerizing slow procession of cars that is seen leaving the airport and the street scene when Hulot is called by a former army friend in Playtime are fine examples of this theme. From the outset of Mr Hulot’s Holiday, Tati equates the idea of a holiday with that of everyday existence. And if fun is what we seek, he tells us, all we have to do is become better tuned to ordinary life. This is the sense of timelessness that is so pervasive in Tati’s work. But M. Hulot is much more than a symbol of leisure. He is a poet of the everyday. Thus, viewed on a higher plane, Hulot is like a perpetual child, always allowing himself to become surprised by the nuances of daily life. In the child, this natural curiosity is moved by understanding; in adults it is motivated by the need to become refreshed. Havelock Ellis reminds us of this in The Dance of Life, when he writes of the artist that:

By revealing the spectacular character of reality he restores the serenity of its innocence. We see the face of the world as of a lovely woman smiling through her tears. (6)

Leisure surfaces again as a prominent theme when we see a shot of the Arch of Triumph reflected on a glass door. The significance of that scene seems to be that, at the same time that the door is showing the Arch of Triumph, the doorman tells another worker inside the hotel lobby, “Hey George, here comes group E.” Group E refers to a group of tourists that is entering the hotel lobby, presumably from viewing the touristic sites. One of the men who enter the hotel is carrying a small rendition of the Eiffel Tower. The import of this is confirmed when we see the tired tourists coming back. At that moment, a woman is heard saying, “I am going straight to bed”, as they go up on the escalator. Simultaneously, another group is descending. Everyone in this group is dressed up. One woman says, “There we go, out on the town.” The implication is that the tourists go and see the sites, but always return to modern comforts. Tati seems to be asking, “What is the relevance of the past to the present?”

Of course, Hulot is not an artist, but the curiosity that informs his engagement with the daily world is that of the poet. We do not think of Hulot as a poet because he does not create, but not necessarily because of the absence of curiosity. Tati tells us very little of Hulot. In point of fact, he does not even utilize the technique of the close-up. This raises the interesting question of just what it is that Hulot thinks and feels. The close-up shot can work to depict the internal make-up of a character. But because Hulot is always seen surrounded by objects and people – that is, in the centre of things – one can only imagine what he thinks. However, this is in keeping with Tati’s overall notion of showcasing reality through sounds and physical gags. Thus we only know Hulot from watching him interact with his environment. But the main point of Mr Hulot’s Holiday as is also the case in Playtime: an exploration of the passage of time. These two films have a melancholic feel that is indicative of an intuitive understanding of some moments of human reality that clearly cannot return. Playtime, in particular, displays a saddened quality of finality. At the end of that film, all the characters disperse from the drug store and retreat into the anonymity of the city. This is strongly felt because for Tati’s work to have a sense of finality, it must also have a beginning point. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to quite a few colourful people that rather unsuspectingly turn out to be the main characters in the film. While it may not seem that Tati’s plots have a linear development vis-à-vis other films, this is not necessarily the case.

The finality of Playtime is evidenced in that, at the end of the film, the characters all come together at the Royal Garden. The many characters that up to that time were seen busily undertaking different tasks are now united. This gives the film a sense of coherence, but also one of irony. Seeing the different characters separately prior to their eventual union at the Royal Garden gives the film a sense that something is about to happen to all these people.

The course of events that lead to the coming together of the characters is as infinite as the categories that define human existence. However, Tati has the viewer posit the meaning of the lived reality of the people involved. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes in The Primacy of Perception, “We never cease living in the world of perception, but we go beyond it in critical thought – almost to the point of forgetting the contribution of perception to our idea of truth.” (7) Of course, at the centre of it all is Hulot and his foibles. The combination of the situations, coupled with the choice of musical scores, gives Tati’s work a distinct pathos that enlightens the everyday affairs of man.

Les Vacances de M. Hulot

But Tati does not intellectualize his themes, thus preserving the freshness and innocence that is such a staple of his films. For instance, one can take a cynical and ideological stance, as is so often the case in film criticism, and argue that Hulot is a poor man lost in the world of the rich in Mr Hulot’s Holiday. After all, his nondescript automobile puffs and shakes along the road while moving at minimum speed while others pass him by in much newer and fancier automobiles. And then there is the view that Hulot has from his hotel room: he has none. While others enjoy oceanfront views, Hulot has an attic room that, because of the angle of the roof, only has a window that faces the sky. But this is much too cynical a view and one that does not correspond with Hulot’s character. The point is that Hulot does enjoy his holiday regardless of his surroundings.

Yet there is a sense in which Hulot is more than an actual character. He is an amalgam of character traits. But always, Hulot seems to come closest to resembling a child. In Mr Hulot’s Holiday, he dances around uninhibitedly while playing table tennis in the hotel lobby. This is confirmed quickly thereafter when the other player, a child, emerges from behind a wall that covers the view of half the table. At this time, a women says to Hulot in English: “It was very good of you to play with him. You see, his father is so busy.” Meanwhile, this scene is bisected by that of a young “intellectual” trying to woo a young woman with a pompous political diatribe. Hulot is always polite and willing to please. But this desire to help tends to often get him in trouble. When he tries to mount a horse, the attempt backfires when the animal kicks a car’s rumble seat, trapping a man inside. David Bellos explains in Jacques Tati: His Life and Art:

Though most of his attempts to do so go awry, Hulot embodies the abstract intention of making amends, irrespective of context. But he never does so by taking direct initiatives, or by into real interaction with the other characters in the lobby, in the dining room, or on the beach. Hulot exists at one remove. An idea, an emotion, an insubstantial presence. Hulot is more like a ghost of Sylvie [et le Fantôme, Claude Autant-Lara, 1936] than the mumbling postman of Jour de fête [1949]. (8)

The first nighttime scene in Playtime is a lovely display of ritualistic and timeless choreography, as the buildings light up floor after floor in a patented sequence. The apartments in the city are also ultra-modern and people waste no time in showing off their gadgets. In Playtime and Mon Oncle, there is a fair amount of respect and fascination with all that is new. In one particularly telling scene the people in four different apartments are all seen watching television through a wall-size glass windows. These scenes are all silent, thus placing the people inside their homes in a somewhat zoological perspective. A particularly magical scene takes place when Hulot leaves his friend’s ultra modern apartment and is walking once again totally alone in the street at night. He looks up at the buildings in wonderment, as a musical interlude accompanies his contented walk. (9)

The second part of Playtime, as I am to refer to it, begins with the opening night of the Royal Garden. The owner and managers of the restaurant have great expectations for their new flashy and glitzy operation. Of course, as irony would have it, everything goes wrong, partly because the restaurant is not finished by the time that the first patrons arrive. The band begins to play a Cuban Cha Cha Cha. As the first dancers take to the dance floor, the crown imprints begin to appear on the back of people’s clothes. The architect continues his frenetic measuring of all the dimensions that are not to specification. In an early scene, one of the waiters rips out a floor tile with his shoe. But the planning goes all wrong at the restaurant, partly because the owners of the restaurant are more concerned with looks than they are with substance. Hulot enters the restaurant by chance. He is taken to the restaurant by an army friend whom he met in the street, as the man is about to deliver flowers to the restaurant. A memorable scene in the film takes places when the glass door breaks and the round handle is used by the doorman to pretend that there is a door. But what does this matter to the patrons, most who are too stuffy to notice their surroundings? As Barbara enters the restaurant, a French couple sitting at a nearby table utter, “How tourist. Did you see her shoes?”

Inside the restaurant, the air conditioner and heater are not well regulated, making an ice-cream cake and a plastic toy airplane melt. The tempo of the music picks up into a conga beat and so does the overall mood of the clients. But as the dancing begins, few notice that the restaurant is beginning to fall apart. The electrical system goes awry. Pieces of glass that were collected from the broken front door are now used as ice for the champagne bucket. The waiters trip, rip their uniforms and serve cold food as the manager walks around with the architect trying to correct the many mishaps. Again, no one seems to notice.

The party winds down after everything has gone wrong. The culmination of the destruction occurs when the American tourist jumps to grab a piece of the décor and instead makes a portion of the ceiling cave in. At first, there is a gasp of anticipation heard coming from the patrons, but quickly thereafter the party resumes. At this point, the band gives up and leaves, prompting the American tourist to call out for a piano player. Barbara volunteers and thus begins to play a slow piece that saves the spirited atmosphere. The party breaks up at dawn. Some of the partygoers go to a drugstore across the street as the sun comes up. Then, as to emphasize the cyclical nature of a normal day in the city, activity begins to mount once again. The city comes alive in the morning. The day progresses, as people go about their usual business. These last scenes tie in beautifully to the everyday activity of the city prior to the restaurant scene. The tourists are picked up by their bus, as this joins the procession of cars and buses. Hulot is seen once again walking about, umbrella in hand. He comes very close to getting to know Barbara, but, as his follies would have it, he gets detained by a turnstile at a store. Day again begins to give way to night. Tati alludes to life as a carousel, as a maze of automobiles becomes caught in a European circular boulevard. The music at this time is that of the circus. Playtime is a fine example of Tati’s uncanny ability to suspend the immediacy of everyday life for us to take a fresh look at life. Michel Chion best explains this when he concludes his marvellous book, The Films of Jacques Tati:


Poetry rises from cars clogging up, and more clogging up. How to end? Cars finally gather in the town’s traffic circle and create a jam. Traffic is hell, but a simple little trigger – a certain sense of slipping brought on by the music coming from a barrel organ – can change everything and ultimately release the enchantment. The resounding music is all it takes to have cars hopelessly turning in circles and become part of a merry-go-round, around which metaphors flourish and brighten our vision. Unexpectedly a person slips a coin in the parking meter and it is as if the drop of the coin starts the music and the merry-go-round all over again. (10)


  1. Michel Chion, The Films of Jacques Tati (Toronto: Guernica, 1997), p. 44. Chio writes: “When dealing with Tati’s films, it is good to be on the look out for amusing details. Which is precisely the point of his films …”
  2. Nora Wydenbruck, Rilke: Man and Poet (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1949), p. 143.
  3. Parmenides of Elea, Fragments, translated by David Gallop (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), p. 53.
  4. Lawrence J. Quirk, The Complete Films of William Powell (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990).
  5. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953).
  6. Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life (New York, Random House, 1923), p. 333.
  7. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), p. 3.
  8. David Bellos, Jacques Tati: His Life and Art (London: The Harvill Press, 1999), p. 171-2.
  9. Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (New York: D. Van Nostrand Company, 1956), p. 137. In a chapter from this book titled, “Creativity in Self-Actualizing People”, Maslow argues that creativity can be viewed as an attitude that some people take toward reality, and not a narrow definition of “creative” people. He seems to be describing Hulot when he writes: “Such people can see the fresh, the raw, the concrete, the idiographic, as well as the generic, the abstract, the rubricised, the categorized and the classified. Consequently, they live far more in the real world of nature than in the verbalized world of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs and stereotypes that most people confuse with the real world.”
  10. Chion, p. 160.

About The Author

Dr Pedro Blas Gonzalez is a writer and philosopher who holds a PhD in Philosophy. He has written five books: Human Existence as Radical Reality: Ortega y Gasset’s Philosophy of Subjectivity; Fragments: Essays in Subjectivity, Individuality and Autonomy; Ortega’s The Revolt of the Masses and the Triumph of the New Man; Unamuno: A Lyrical Essay and Dreaming in the Cathedral.

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