July 3, 1973 [Play Time]

Four days after seeing it, and Jacques Tati’s Play Time still echoes in my head, his M. Hulot a low reverberation of sweet melancholy and last glimpses, a middle distance sound that doesn’t want to fade away.

Hulot, an essentially silent character in a world of increasingly complex and subtle sounds, a tall and almost blocky figure with a hat and long raincoat and umbrella and pipe, has been wandering around Paris for twenty years or so; but he is fading at last, the note diminishing during a single long Parisian night--a "play time" that begins in a lengthy first act of blue steel and geometric severity, leads toward a chaotic symphony for jazz nightclub and tourism, and ends with perfect calliope diminuendo (if such a thing is possible)--while Paris, cold and impassive throughout the day, becomes raucous in the nightclub--which falls apart in joy, chair by chair, garment by garment, wall by wall; and with the dawn, the city transforms itself into a rush-hour carousel, a country fair that fades as the tourist bus leaves the city.

At this last moment, Hulot finds one more opportunity to gently offer a gift (a scarf for a young woman, a tourist he had befriended during the long night of free jazz and dismantled architecture), and the curve of a spray of small flowers he had put in the gift box mimics the branching ultramodern streetlights marching outside the bus's windows. The end falls into a last fond dream: that Paris (that is, the modern--heck, the American--world) just might have hidden in its monolithic polish and metallic hiss a memory of the plaintive-but-happy notes of a café accordion, accompanied by a fine but thin--and somewhat tipsy--voice singing, after everything closes down.

So maybe the song refuses to fade away, after all. Hulot gets to stay behind--perhaps lost in a France that looks almost nothing like the strolling ease of Mr. Hulot's Holiday, but still able to recede, maybe to some last corner of his Paris-that-was, all winding streets and stray cats and children, his owlish half-smile tentative but secure.

Me, I travel with the bus, with the other Americans, back toward the airport where the movie began, having never seen Paris' old-time charms except in plate-glass reflections, more a memory of a memory. It is a long goodbye, but I can still see Hulot waving, smaller as I move away, but not disappearing.


  1. Thanks, Paulie.
    For 'nother good read: Bellos, David. Jacques Tati. Harvill Press, London, 1999.

  2. Would be willing to read about Tati if it doesn't mess with the image of Hulot I have in my head, where I spnd most of my time.

  3. Wow. Not enough people know about Tati and this, arguably his greatest masterpiece. I love it when I hear people talking about it...

    Just wanted to let you know that I have a film blog as well. My name is Nathanael and I would love to hear what you have to say about my film blog. I try and focus on under-appreciated or neglected films. I would greatly appreciate it if you would give my blog a look and leave a comment telling me what you think. Maybe we could also swap links!

    My blog address is:


    Talk to you later!

  4. That picture of the cars is hilarious

  5. @Venice Dood: Watch the film; it gets cuter in motion.


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