Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
Though Jacques Tati had been quietly perfecting the art of sophisticated, nearly wordless comedy for well over a decade by 1967, in such films as M. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon oncle, no one could have been prepared for his visionary, bank-breaking masterpiece of that year, Playtime. Elevating slapstick to high art, the movie is tomfoolery on a massive scale, all taking place within a spectacularly dull modern metropolis. To ensure complete control over his filming location, Tati decided to have the city constructed from scratch; the resulting landscape of plexiglass facades and moveable buildings is what famously sent the film’s budget way over the top. Check out the beginning of the short documentary Au-delà de “Playtime,” available on our edition of the film, which details the incredible work that went into the creation of the sets and offers behind-the-scenes production footage.
Among the many, many, many brilliant sight gags in Playtime are the omnipresent travel-agency signs promising to whisk people away to exotic urban destinations—all of which depict the same concrete slab of a building. You can see some of those advertisements in this clip, in which the young American tourist played by Barbara Dennek arrives in France, camera at the ready.