Films & Architecture: “Play Time”

  • 05 Jul 2013
  • by
  • Films & Architecture

This week we revisit a classic, a masterpiece by Jacques Tati. In the movie, Tati depicts modernism’s problematic impact on the city and the way in which people interact within it.

The movie’s carefully considered environment shows characteristics of the modernist movement at that time: repetition and regularity (the result of industrialisation) are represented from the smallest objects in the interiors to the larger scale of the city’s urban plan. Enjoy this great movie and let us know your thoughts about Tati’s take on modernism.


Original title: Play Time
Year: 1967
Runtime: 155 min.
Country: France
Director: Jacques Tati
Writer: Art Buchwald, Jacques Lagrange, Jacques Tati
Soundtrack: Francis Lemarque
Cast: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek


The movie is structured in six sequences, linked by two characters who repeatedly encounter one another in the course of a day: Barbara, a young American tourist visiting Paris with a group composed primarily of middle-aged American women, and Monsieur Hulot, a befuddled Frenchman lost in the new modernity of Paris. The sequences are as follows:

The Airport: the American tour group arrives at the ultra-modern and impersonal Orly Airport.

The Offices: M. Hulot arrives at one of the glass and steel buildings for an important meeting, but gets lost in a maze of disguised rooms and offices, eventually stumbling into a trade exhibition of lookalike business office designs and furniture nearly identical to those in the rest of the building.

The Trade Exhibition: M. Hulot and the American tourists are introduced to the latest modern gadgets, including a door that slams “in golden silence” and a broom with headlights, while the Paris of legend goes all but unnoticed save for a flower-seller’s stall and a single reflection of the Eiffel Tower in a glass window.

The Apartments: as night falls, M. Hulot meets an old friend who invites him to his sparsely furnished, ultra-modern and glass-fronted flat. This sequence is filmed entirely from the street, observing Hulot and other building residents through uncurtained floor-to-ceiling picture windows.

The Royal Garden: This sequence takes up almost the entire second half of the film. At the restaurant, Hulot reunites with several characters he has periodically encountered during the day, along with a few new ones, including a nostalgic ballad singer and a boisterous American businessman.

The Carousel of Cars: Hulot buys Barbara two small gifts as mementos of Paris before her departure. In the midst of a complex ballet of cars in a traffic circle, the tourists’ bus returns to the airport.

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Previously posted on this section…

Cite: Portilla, Daniel. "Films & Architecture: “Play Time”" 05 Jul 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 May 2015. <>
  • Afonso Gonçalves

    After seeing this movie I almost lost the will to live was so bored. Not to imply the movie itself isn’t interesting. In fact, I find it very interesting that it made me feel that way. All that repetition, severity and almost bureaucratic way with which Tati so masterfully depicts the modern society is definitely not the way I wish to view the world. For me architecture and urban spaces need and should be exciting, moving, poetical and with plenty of stories to tell, not soulless and desaturated, striped of feeling and human contact. Maybe this movies takes modernism to an extreme but sometimes that the best way to prove a point and I think, in that sense, ‘Play Time’ does it brilliantly. Definitely worth the watch.

  • Greg Logan
  • Nebzyl

    The first post in this section (The Belly of an Architect) mentions that you’re gonna update this section every week. But I can see it’s now random. Is it? Thank you for everything…

  • Nebzyl

    I have developed special interest in this list, and have watched most movies recommended here. I think it’s time, you update it. I’ve got some recommendations for this list: “Towering Inferno”, “Architecture 101″, “Escape Plan”. Please update soon.

  • Pitchaya Cydonia

    You should write about “Her” movie. There are some of interesting architecture and interior space scenes and Shanghai cityscape.