Yves Barsacq

Tales of the Night (2011, Michel Ocelot)

Tales of the Night is a visual masterpiece. It’s computer generated silhouette animation, usually two dimensional (though director Ocelot does branch occasionally into the third), about what seems to be a futuristic theatre company. Late one night, two young actors (and costume designers and writers) and the guy who seems to be their director, sit and adapt a bunch of fables and folk tales for the stage.

Except the stage is never clear-the viewer just sees these adaptations as part of the film; one of Night‘s major failings is the lack of emphasis on the actors. Its other major failing is related-the female actor invariably takes the backseat. Even when she protests she hates a role… she has to do it. Even when she says this role will be her strongest, it’s not. The boy-in the fable-is always the hero.

Ocelot keeps misses his chance to do something interesting with a female protagonist in a fable; by the last one, it’s more annoying than disappointing.

The fables involve a werewolf in Burgundy, an African one, a Caribbean one featuring the afterlife (sort of), a Tibetan one, one about the Aztecs (or Mayans). The final one is just a standard fairy tale. I may have forgotten one, but I don’t think so.

The African one might be the best, though the Caribbean one is hilarious. They’re all often touching. The stumbling starts with the last two.

Still, Ocelot makes a magnificent film. Shame about his gender issues.



Written and directed by Michel Ocelot; edited by Patrick Ducreut; music by Christian Maire; released by StudioCanal.

Starring Julien Beramis (Boy), Marine Griset (Girl) and Yves Barsacq (Théo).

Playtime (1967, Jacques Tati)

Playtime opens as an attack on modernity worthy of George Amberson Minafer, dealing with the personality-free office place populated by cubicles, to the lines of similarly dressed men on their ways home after work or the same type of men all getting into the same kind of car after their work day. There’s some great stuff about television and how, of a collection of people living in the same apartment building, it is the thing they have most in common. The film, in scenic description of the first half, sounds more like a feature article in Harper’s discussing the “American Idol” phenomenon than anything else.

The film is split into two distinct sections. The beginning, featuring Tati’s M. Hulot’s adventures in a modern office building, these adventures juxtaposed with the experiences of a young America woman in a tourist group. She and Hulot meet over and over and Tati presents her in a particular light. She sees something wondrous when everyone else is too busy to look. M. Hulot’s adventures are quite different, more a comedy of errors, with frequent mistaken identities. Then the city goes dark and turns on the lights and the focus moves to a nightclub, opening for business when it’s not at all ready. Both Hulot and the American tourist end up at the nightclub and, after the incredibly impersonal, alienated world of the first forty-five minutes, Playtime slowly becomes celebratory of people. The nightclub scene brings together all of Playtime‘s characters and lets them get to know each other. Except the television people, Tati’s abandoned them.

I’d forgotten the nightclub scene. I remembered much of the film following that long sequence, but I didn’t remember any of the actual club scene, which is odd, since it’s the most important part of the picture. It’s here Tati gets to present his case–while the nightclub staff are frantic to create that alienating environment for the characters of the first part, they hadn’t counted on M. Hulot, who innocently brings the whole thing down. Thanks to him, the construction workers are drinking with the oil millionaires and the drunks off the street are drinking with the white collar drunks. All while the nightclub staff tries to keep the place from falling apart, while it becomes obvious entropy is what the people are looking for anyway.

The end–the nightclub changing the world–becomes a celebration of modernity. We see the world through something a lot like the American tourist would see it. The beauty in the cityscape. Still, while Playtime is Tati’s finest work I’ve seen, it’s also his least accessible. It doesn’t just require patience or listening, Tati uses the entire frame to tell his story and he only gives the viewer a few seconds to adjust to the frame’s contents. The viewer has to pay real attention, or he or she will miss something important. While the nightclub scene is a little less intensive, it’s definitely an active viewing experience.

Playtime is a profound piece of work and one of the times the five hundred odd words of a Stop Button post simply aren’t enough.



Directed by Jacques Tati; written by Tati and Jacques Lagrange, with additional English dialogue by Art Buchwald; directors of photography, Jean Badal and Andreas Winding; edited by Gerard Pollicand; music by Francis Lemarque; production designer, Eugene Roman; produced by Bernard Maurice; released by Specta Films.

Starring Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Barbara Dennek (Young Tourist), John Abbey (Mr. Lacs), Tony Andal (Page Boy), Yves Barsacq (Hulot’s Friend), Valérie Camille (Mr. Lacs’s Secretary), France Delahalle (Shopper in Department Store), Erika Dentzler (Mme. Giffard), Léon Doyen (Doorman), Yvette Ducreux (Hat Check Girl), Georges Faye (Architect), André Fouché (Restaurant Manager), Michel Francini (1st Maitre D’), Jack Gauthier (The Guide), Grégoire Katz (German Salesman), Billy Kearns (Mr. Schultz), Reinhard Kolldehoff (German Businessman), Jacqueline Lecomte (Young Tourist’s Friend), Rita Maiden (Mr. Schultz’s Companion), Marc Monjou (False Hulot), Georges Montant (Mr. Giffard), Laure Paillette (1st Woman at the Lamp), Henri Piccoli (An Important Gentleman), Colette Proust (2nd Woman at the Lamp), Nicole Ray (Singer) and France Rumilly (Woman Selling Eyeglasses).

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