If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the species and our simian roots, I give you Claire Simon’s seminal film Récréations (Playtime). Shot entirely in the courtyard of a French kindergarten, the film is a marvel of protean shape-shifting action, not unlike watching the play of molecules in the universe, or macaque monkeys on the loose. As the kids pour forth for recess, play takes on epic proportions. In every corner, some miniature drama is unfolding. Violence, love, jealousy, treachery are all here! This is human society in the making. It is raw, molten stuff, primal in its intensity, but also completely hilarious and sweet. A little boy, determined to collect sticks, must ward off the predations of roaming gangs, as well as the affections of a little girl, who has an interest in playing house. On the other side of the courtyard, a screaming match erupts when one ambitious boy attempts to kidnap all the girls. For his upstart behaviour he is suitably abused by his fellow boys, while the girls (masterminds behind the scenes) look on with secret smiles. In still another corner, a tiny child faced with the terrifying task of jumping over a bench, must finally face her fears and take a leap of courage.
As packs of small bodies in bright clothing swirl apart and then regroup, the game shifts. If you watch closely, you can almost see cosmic forces, like those that govern ocean waves, or the movement of the stars, at work. At the end of recess, everyone wipes snot on their sleeves, and troops back to class and the watchful eyes of their teachers. Peace is restored in the universe. -DW