Black and white footage has long been a shorthand for “look, this is classy and therefore good”. And yes, far too many photographers have relied on monochrome as a substitute for actual quality. But Play it Safe, a black and white feature film, set in Melbourne to boot, intrigued me. And it turned out to be a genuinely good watch too.
Play it Safe is director/producer Chris Pahlow’s debut feature, about a twenty-something Melbourne musician trying to find a way to pursue his passion while also carving out a living. It’s a story many of the people in my own circles, as well as many other people, will be intimately familiar with.
Australian film has long been overlooked by Australian audiences (cultural cringe is a real thing, guys), but Play it Safe offers a glimpse of how much potential Australian settings have. There are beautiful sequences of train rides, of the Melbourne city at night and even of the suburbs. There’s also cheeky references to locations like the Worker’s Club and Brunswick. In short, Play it Safe feels real; there’s an authenticity there that a lot of films struggle to achieve, and it comes with all the emotions, conflicts and woes that go with being twenty-something. To add to that Melbourne feel, the soundtrack is packed with Melbourne-based acts including Big Scary, Polo Club and Aoi.
If I were to pin this film down into a genre, it’d be somewhere between indie darling and mumble core: the dialogue is natural and unaffected, but not just constant stuttering. The cast is also top-notch: lead Nicholas Kato as Jamie reminds me vaguely of Aaron Johnson-Taylor, but more Australian, and better at music, probably. Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall as Jamie’s roommate Jefferson manages to strike the right balance between being comic relief and being an actual person instead of simply a bundle of jokes, and both love interests, played by Maya Aleksandra and Christine Lui, are both surprisingly fleshed out, with their own motivations and stories. They’re not just props for Jamie’s narrative, which is how a lot of films treat women.
Play it Safe is what I want I want other Australian films to aspire to. Pahlow has deftly created a film that is refreshingly real and startlingly engaging. He cites filmmakers like Lena Dunham and Noah Baumbach in being inspirations, but the end result stands on its own.
Play it Safe is in cinemas today: visit the website for more information and tickets.