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Time to Play

 

Playtime, a French classic by Jacques Tati, the opening film of this year’s jubilee edition of the Ljubljana International Film Festival, was never translated into Slovenian. One of the possible reasons was that the literal translation would sound idiotic; and the other that it would send the wrong message. It has always been self-evident that Tati, or Monsieur Hulot, causing mischief and terrible commotion in his too-short trousers, a pipe in his mouth and an umbrella under arm, is only playing on screen; to put it more precisely: toying. Toying with his own image (and mythology), the traditional genre of the burlesque, and primarily with sound, optical illusions and high-tech gadgets, the state-of-the-art technology that has been fascinating the masses (especially the upper classes) long before the digital era and the present-day modernised world.

Tati was no lover of mindless modernisation, of machines and devices, his frequent objects of ridicule (most obviously so in My Uncle and Traffic). I believe this wasn’t because he hated modernisation but simply because he struggled with this impersonal gadgetised world, similarly to Monsieur Hulot, a man constantly at odds with technology and lost in the ultra-modern glasshouse of Playtime’s artificial Paris.

To Tati, modernisation served as a powerful lever for humour ever since his debut feature, The Big Day, in which he as a countryside postman finds himself in a cinema for the first and last time, and even then has to watch Americans proudly boasting of their cutting-edge postal service in the newsreel. Who knows, perhaps Tati would have ridiculed also the present-day ways of film consumption. I am confident that he would disapprove of them, also because being aware that the digital and television screens strip his work off its essence and grandeur. To this end, Playtime is perhaps the central feature in the joint endeavours of our Festival, the Kinodvor Cinema and the Slovenian Cinematheque. Our year-long campaign, A Year of Celebrating Cinema, and the Festival retrospective, Big Screen: Films You Wouldn’t Want to See Anywhere Else Except in a Movie Theatre,have been designed with the aim of drawing attention to the essentialness and uniqueness of classic cinema screening. Play Playtime on your TV or computer screen and it is almost certain that you will fail to see the reason for this French comedy’s classic status; see it in a cinema and you will be able to identify all the nuances and subtle details that represent the essence of Tati’s minimalistic and infinitely enchanting humour. That is why we go to our Festival every year, taking place throughout the city of Ljubljana and in Maribor, to watch films in cinema, their rightful place.

 

Simon Popek