Physical comedy in film is a funny thing. Yes, I did just write that sentence. Please keep reading. What I am trying to say is that physical comedy works like no other form of comedy. It is easily accessible, giving it the ability to cross language barriers and age differences. This is because physical comedy is visual. No one is telling a joke, and there are no one liners. There are, in a sense, no explicit cultural standards that have be understood in order to appreciate it. This is why it works so well in film, a visual medium. At the same time it can contain depth. It can tell us more than what it showing us on the surface of the gag. Whether that is philosophical or ideological, it can be grounded in some deeper meaning.
Physical comedy characterized by the visual gag. The gag is the comic effect or joke being conveyed. In some cases the gag can span the whole film. While seemly simply in its design, the physical comedy gag is intricate in its set up. It is this intricacy and regard for detail that made me think of Jacques Tati as a subject for a post on physical comedy.
What Hulot doesn't know is that Geffard is actually in the apartment adjacent to the one he is in. He is shown all the amenities of the apartment, the lamp with the cigarette holder hidden inside, those farting chairs, and the television. The comedy comes from the way in which Tati lets the viewer create the story. As Hulot is inside, the camera never goes inside, so we never hear a word they are saying. We are forced to make up in our minds what is happening. Meanwhile, Tati letting us in on joke as if the camera is showing something funny to the audience it noticed while being forced to wait outside for Hulot.
Tati is also continuing the theme of transparency that began in the office building. That the modern world offers no privacy. And therefore we in turn lose a bit of self with this loss. Of course he does this through a visual satire of the modern world.
If you have not seen this film, I encourage you to check it out. It contains so much more than the two scenes I talked about in this post. Also, take a look at other films by Tati. You won't be disappointed. Want to know more about the genius of PlayTime? Check out this video essay by David Cairns done for Criterion