François Truffaut had been ambivalent about Jacques Tati’s work (he’d called the director “laborious” in correspondence with Helen Scott), prior to watching Play time (1967). Having done so, he was awestruck, and immediately wrote Tati an exquisite letter to offer him sympathy for the disappointing reception, and tell him how much he had admired a film he realised was being woefully misunderstood and under-appreciated. It moved Tati deeply: such praise would have been touching at any time, but in 1968, to have Truffaut rally to one’s support was especially significant.
The appraisal of “a film from another planet, where they make films differently” was spot on. Play time is indeed one of that handful of films of which it may be truly said that you have never seen anything similar. And unlike many others in that handful – say, for example, Andy Warhol’s Empire (1964) – it achieves uniqueness without compromising accessibility or entertainment value. It is one of the most original films ever; it might also be one of the most generous.