Jacques Tati often liked to say that the only real star of his film Playtime (1967) was the set itself. With his brilliant manipulation of its mise en scène, those words hold to be quite true. The minimally dialogued, loosely plot-based film is mainly structured around the changing of settings. As the movie goes on, an apparent pattern emerges among the scenery—it almost entirely consists of grey, pristine buildings, from the steely Orly Airport to the shiny new Royal Garden restaurant. Tati establishes this foundation in order to build up and play with the dichotomy of public and private space. Throughout the film, he juxtaposes these two ideas and questions the boundary that divides them.
The only moment of private space we see in Playtime is when Monsieur Hulot’s acquaintance from the army invites him into his recently bought apartment. However, Tati takes this scene and challenges the extent to which the space could be deemed personal. First off, the design of the apartment complex remains consistent with the public buildings that we have previously seen—grid-like, silver, and clean-cut. In the below collage of the six main scenes in the movie, the apartment (middle picture of the top row) blends right in with the other buildings of this ultra-modern world. By making the aesthetics of families’ homes parallel that of public locations, the distinction between them becomes slightly blurred, for our expectations of how the two different spaces should look are challenged. Tati creates a disturbance in what we think we know—if we are not certain of how a private space should appear, do we even know how they function?