JACQUES TATI put everything into Playtime, an eloquent yet almost wordless muse about man's pathetic relationship with life's ultra-modern buildings and its somnambulistic inhabitants.
His screen persona, the hapless Monsieur Hulot, stumbles around in a building that is a veritable maze. Is it an airport, a hotel, a hospital? You're never sure. Bewildered by office partitions, glass reflections, faulty paging systems and lifeless monotonous bureaucrats, Hulot ends up more confused than ever. Tati created an extravagant set, constructing entire buildings as props and moving them around between shots to further disorient the viewer, and controlled every aspect of the film's production.
For all his efforts, "Playtime," released in 1968, flopped. The massive set was torn down and, after another weak film, Traffic, he found it impossible to raise money any longer. He died broke and despondent in 1982. Do him justice and watch this film (it's 108 minutes, cut down, unfortunately, from the original 155); you'll see what a mistake we all made. The National Gallery will screen "Playtime" with The Trial, Orson Welles's charismatically murky adaptation of Kafka's novel, at the East Building auditorium, Saturday at 2:30 Saturday. Admission is free.
The Smithsonian Resident Associates will screen rare Japanese war films for three consecutive Tuesdays at 7. This Tuesday, it's Kozaburo Yoshimura's A Ball at Anjo House (1947) and Tomotaka Tasaki's Five Scouts (1938). The series continues August 11 with Soldiers at the Front (1939, Fumio Kamei) and Airplane Drone, (1939, Tasaki); and concludes August 18 with Kenji Mizoguchi's Victory of Women (1946) and Between War and Peace (1947), by Kamei and Satsuo Yamamoto. Admission, at the American History Building's Carmichael Auditorium, is $18 for nonmembers.
Friday through Sunday at the Sidwell Cinema: films by Robert Frank, including Life Dances On and The Sin of Jesus. Admission $3.50. Call 537-8135 for times . . . Tuesday night at 7, at Anne Arundel Community College's Arnold campus (Pascal Center): Jules Dassin's Night and the City (1950) and Rudolph Mate's D.O.A. Admission $2. Call 269-7341 for directions . . . This Friday at 7:30, at the Library of Congress: Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire, a dark study of anti-Semitism, with three Bobs -- Mitchum, Ryan and Young. It's preceded by The Hollywood 10, a 15-minute documentary on the group that stood up to the House Committee on Un-American Activities; and A Good Example (32 minutes), which reconstructs Bertolt Brecht's testimony before the same inquisition. Admission is free.