Playlist bounces into theatres at a time in which many young women are desperate to get back to having casual sex and discussing their love lives with their colleagues. Perhaps this film will remind them of the fact that life outside of lockdown can be messy and painful. It certainly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to evoking the disappointment that one experiences when they are confronted with the realities of life as an adult. This makes it the perfect salve to an era in which people are too content to ignore the challenges faced by ordinary people.
Writer-director Nine Antico tackles the problems of 21st century women by telling a slice of life story about a couple of twenty-somethings who just can’t seem to get their act together. The events of the film are seen through the eyes of Sophie (Sara Forestier), a young artist who struggles to find a find a foothold in the industry as a result of not having a university degree. She takes up a job at a publishing house and quits her part-time waitressing job at a small café. Everything is looking up for her, but she is shocked and startled when she learns that she is pregnant. This news causes her to question whether she wants to settle down and commit to a longterm romantic relationship. She has flings with a series of men who don’t live up to her expectations and this further complicates her plans for the future. As she suffers through a rocky patch in her development, she looks to her friend Julia (Laetitia Dosch) for support. Julia is an unsuccessful actress and her cheery optimism stands in opposition to Sophie’s pragmatism. With only each other to rely upon, they begin to feel as though they are all alone in the world.
Fans of independent cinema will likely be used to seeing this sort of understated character study. It features quotidian dialogue, performances that are free of affectation, classy black and white cinematography and a jazzy-heavy score. A cynical viewer could argue that Antico’s film is too similar to Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973), Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (2013) and Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends (1978). A more forgiving, open-minded film lover could probably acknowledge that Antico does have her own perspective on the struggles faced by ambitious young women. Her exploration of this period in a woman’s life is unusually angry and resentful. Her characters seem to rail against the world that they have been born into and yearn to live in a period in which it was easier to break into a creative industry. It’s not nearly as cutesy as it could have been and its flintiness gets it through scenes that could have been sentimental to a mawkish extent.
It is easy to miss the fact that the film is cleverly engineered to elicit a muted emotional response. Carole Le Page’s editing keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, whilst also subtly reminding you that Sophie can never achieve an emotional release. In abruptly cutting from one scene to another, Le Page initially creates a whimsical, playful effect. We wonder whether this will be a cheerful romantic comedy in which a woman joyfully flits between relationships with several different men. As the film goes on, this decision begins to take on a different meaning, as it comes to represent the precarious situation that Sophie finds herself in. As she considers whether to give up on her dream of becoming a comic book artist, she finds herself being given minor opportunities that entice her to remain in the industry. A part of her wants to give up on her fanciful ideals, but she can’t bear the thought of losing out on a miraculous opportunity that might just happen to fall into her lap. She is being jerked here, there and everywhere and never has time to catch her breath and seriously consider the decisions that she makes. We begin to feel anxious as one stressful situation is immediately followed by another. When Sophie finally reaches her breaking point and snaps, it is an exceptionally affecting moment because of all of the preparatory work that Le Page has done.
Le Page’s craftiness also helps to tie together the disparate narrative strands that make up the loose, free-flowing story that Antico wants to tell. Sophie’s polite disagreements with her roommate and difficulties finding a cheap mattress are not necessarily related to her career struggles, but they do build up our understanding of her personality. Rather than deploying these diversions from the main plot as a fun form of comic relief, Le Page will weave them into a larger existing sequence. Rather than feeling like tacked on, utterly superfluous scenes, they add poignance to pivotal turning points in the plot. When Sophie experiences one of those days in which everything seems to go wrong for her, it makes sense that it is capped off by her discovery of several bed bugs in her room. She is too tired to have a hissy fit about this fairly major event and it only reinforces the sense of despair that accompanies her every moment.
Antico’s lo-fi indie might not be the most conceptually original film to have been released in recent years but it is exceptionally well made. Craft counts for a lot when you’re considering a relatively low budget production and Playlist’s technical proficiency allows you to ignore some of Antico’s less inspired touches.
In select cinemas and exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema 22 October, 2021