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Australia 2015
Directed by
Chris Pahlow
85 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Play It Safe

Synopsis: Jamie (Nicholas Kato) is a young Melbourne musician in his mid-twenties who studied jazz at the Victoria College of the Arts. When his band breaks up he finds himself out of a job and goes to work at a soul-destroying music school. Potential opportunities arise such as Sara (Maya Aleksandra), a girl he is keen on, asking him to play at her gallery opening but Jamie is too scared to take a risk. Jamie's parents don't help his situation.  His father (Clayton Jacobson) and mum (Christina Kato) make it clear they will provide no more income and strongly push Jamie to finish his law degree and "get a real job", a prospect at odds with the young man's aspirations. 

First time director Chris Pahlow is a talent to watch. He is certainly not scared to take a risk. The film is shot in black and white which lends both a broodiness and an immediacy to everything. Along with this is a spontaneous and realistic script with characters and dialogue workshopped and improvised by the cast in the manner of Mike Leigh, Michael Winterbottom and Richard Linklater, directors who Pahlow recognizes as inspirational influences.

Despite being a first-time effort, some of the characters are surprisingly memorable. Jamie’s roommate is Jefferson (Alasdair Tramblay-Birchall) and in every scene in which he good-naturedly tries to encourage Jamie to “go for it”, he dominates the screen and in a final hilarious and clever rap number about accountants he simply steals the show. Another of the impressive characters is a student of Jamie’s called Spencer (Spencer Gigacz), an imaginative, clever and possibly Asperger’s sufferer who simply does not want to undergo piano lessons, and causes trouble for Jamie in his job.

Music is critical to this film, specifically the Melbourne music scene with twenty Melbourne-based acts being included on the soundtrack. Many of the cast and crew are local musicians and while much of the style of experimental electronic music that Jamie describes as “rainbows for my ears” is quite unfamiliar to me, it felt perfectly of a piece with the story: other-worldly but with an emotional edge that entrances.  Melbourne also comes up a treat on the screen – Burke Road, Abbotsford Convent, Camberwell Station are familiar sights that add to the sense of locale and immediacy.

Play It Safe is a film to relish – something fresh and brave but with likeable characters you'll easily engage with, and a heartfelt connection to the city of Melbourne and its vibrant music scene. 




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