This love-letter to the San Fernando Valley circa the 1970s is built on nostalgia. The film was shot on a host of vintage lenses from the ‘60s and ‘70s that gave it a particular texture and flare to bring out the ‘blast from the past’ aesthetic, along with a meticulous selection of KODAK Color Negative Film. But its real merit, aside from the stellar acting by the sizable cast, was the decision to shoot on-location all around the Valley. El Portal Theater lends the glittering ostentation of its vintage facade and sentimental scenes take place at neighbourhood classics like Rive Gauche Cafe or the bygone Tail o’ the Cock restaurant, which closed in the 1980s and was recreated for the film at the Van Nuys Golf Course–the interiors shot in Barone’s Famous Italian restaurant, another Valley favourite. PTA’s homage to the milieu was all-encompassing, focusing on old gas stations (Encino Union), radio towers, and schools (Reseda High School). In the process of making the film PTA also created a pop-up pinball parlour out of a set, named Fat Bernie’s Pinball Palace, in Westwood. Even the title is a nod to the Valley, Licorice Pizza being a shuttered-but-still-cherished record chain from Southern California; though a deeper layer of nostalgia is captured in the name, as PTA told the LA Times, “If there’s two words that make me kind of have a Pavlovian response and memory of being a child and running around, it’s ‘licorice’ and ‘pizza’… It instantly takes me back to that time.”
— Julian Manning
Debutant Faraz Ali’s first feature-length film deals with, among other issues, the death of single screen theatres. Mampu, who lives and works in Pune, returns to her hometown of Allahabad to attend to her father who is battling both failing health and business. Palace Cinema, once a thriving success, is shuttered and passed over in an age of smartphones and multiplexes. As Mampu gets reacquainted with her hometown, flashbacks of childhood memories transport the audience back to the ’90s. For those in the audience who grew up around the same time, it’s a heady dose of nostalgia. Ali’s juxtaposition of the Allahabad of Mampu’s childhood and the Prayagraj of her adult life, is not just a commentary on the changing nature of a city but also of its people and culture. Having premiered at the Dharamshala International Film Festival last year, the film is yet to find a theatre distributor but given how OTT platforms have proved a rather successful forum for independent productions, expect to find this on one of the popular ones soon.
— Samarpan Bhowmik
Of late, the walled city of Londonderry, or just Derry, has attracted quite a bit of attention, thanks in no small part to this zany comedy set in the turbulent early ’90s here (which now also has a mural dedicated to DG). Derry Girls follows the misadventures of five teenagers enrolled at a contemporary Catholic girls’ school (writer and local Lisa McGee’s own school served as inspiration), as they go about getting banned from grimy chip shops, hitchhiking to Belfast to watch a Take That concert, navigating teenage angst and living it up through all the volatility of The Troubles. The solid soundtrack features hits right from The Cranberries to The Corrs. And the cast of characters, from the Girls to outsiders—relatives who can yap endlessly, oddly compassionate headmistresses, eccentric newbies in town, and even Bill Clinton, who, however, stays off the screen—renders the Derry of Derry Girls achingly memorable. This is for the OG ’90s kids.
— Prannay Pathak
Trust Greta Gerwig to swirl reality with sweet nostalgia and present a film that dazzles with much aplomb in her directorial debut. Lady Bird is a coming-of-age teen drama set in the fall of early 2000’s Sacramento, California. The story revolves around Christine MacPherson (Saoirse Ronan) aka “Lady Bird”, a high-school theatre student, who dreams of studying in a prestigious college somewhere in the East Coast. She often introduces herself as someone who comes from the “wrong side of the tracks”—a hint at her family’s unfortunate financial circumstances. There is ample family drama, friendship drama, and boy drama in what turns out to be a hilarious and emotional take on life’s many firsts.
— Pooja Naik
The Coen brothers’ feature borrows its aesthetic from the cover shot of Bob Dylan’s second album (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), in which the singer and his then paramour Suze Rotolo, were captured against a wintry, 1960s Greenwich Village street. This film’s lead, down-on-his-luck folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), is steeped in the mythology of that much-lionised period of music in New York in the Sixties, when vagabond artists roamed the dank interiors of clubs like The Gaslight Café, where the directors set some stunningly lit sequences. Dragging a guitar case along, Llewyn—dressed somewhere between a hipster and hobo—bounces from venue to venue, struggling to connect with audiences. His arc of desperate defiance climaxes in a fateful encounter in The Gaslight’s back-alley, as a young Dylan himself (only hinted at, on-screen) takes the stage in a historic moment.
— Lakshmi Sankaran
Ousmane Sembene’s debut film is a haunting portrayal of the social aftermaths of French colonisation of Senegal. Starring Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Black Girl is considered the first Sub-Saharan African film by an native filmmaker to receive international acclamation. The narrative, loosely based on real-life incidents, follows the life of a Senegalese woman, Diouana, a nanny and maid, who is eager to to find white patrons for a steady income. When the role of a home governess presents her the opportunity to sail to France and live lavishly, Diouana plunges towards the better life abroad, soon to realise that wearing tailored and cinched pass-ons from her employer doesn’t cast away stinging racism. As her duties reduce to one of a slave’s and she accounts for her presence as a racial fetish, an aggressive attachment to cultural characters like a handmade mask show a longing for freedom. The black and white film flows like poetry, painting a juxtaposing societal image of colonial Africa against yatch-lined Southern France. Rolling out like a product of the New French Wave, this classic drama is a representation of ground-breaking filmmaking.
— Muskaan Gupta