Pinky is a quiet young teenage girl who goes to school in a suburb, where she seems to go unnoticed by most of her fellow students. One afternoon, she hits a dog while driving and follows the animal into its backyard, where it escapes into the woods.
When she attempts to contact its owners to help find it, she meets Mike and Tara, who happen to be classmates at her school. Their encounter is strange, awkward, but tinged with a frisson of flirtation. Despite the flickers of some kind of connection, Pinky comes to realize just how invisible she is and what other people her age are doing — and what her own place within it all is.
Writer-director Gautam Chopra’s coming-of-age short drama studiously avoids melodrama, focusing instead on the subtle, often unspoken currents and eddies of thought and feeling that people set off between each other. In doing so, it offers an often poetic, uncanny portrait of a young girl stranded in an isolated suburban milieu, floating between pockets of strangeness and tiptoeing her way to a sense of self.
The writing is pared-down, and with the relative paucity of dialogue, it’s also a very quiet film, focused on Pinky’s gestures, glances and reactions. The storytelling’s themes and concerns are carried by a luminous, crystalline set of visuals, rendered in a moody, muted and cool palette and pristine framing. There’s both a sense of haziness and isolation, and the almost chilly glow to this portrayal of seemingly ordinary suburbia situates Pinky in a world that feels both beautiful and remote.
Within this world, Pinky’s accident draws her into a pocket of life that she normally would not have access to: the orbit of her fellow students Mike and Tara, who seem caught in some furtive encounter. Despite this, Pinky makes fragile overtures of some kind of connection with Mike, building on a previous, almost illicit one in school.
Young actor Nivita Chaliki plays Pinky with a watchful restraint, taking in each moment with thoughtful responsiveness and evoking both a tentative longing for experience and a fear of judgment. It’s very much a self-contained, introverted performance, made alive with the character’s intelligence and curiosity. And these qualities are ignited when she’s shunted off, left to her own devices to find her injured dog and presented with just how callous and self-absorbed the people around her are.
In evoking the “strange suburbia” similar to films like “The Ice Storm” or “Little Children,” the storytelling of “Licorice” gains its resonance by understanding how small, seemingly insignificant details actually set off huge wells of realization and feeling, especially at an age when a seemingly callow comment can devastate for days.
But by keeping its register so quiet and intimate, “Licorice” captures a sense of “unreality”: a set of surfaces that shimmer with promise but ultimately contain moral emptiness and furtive desires. Pinky must find her way through this world, leaning on her own self-worth and instincts, but the film has a teasing ambiguity on whether or not this is possible — making for a plaintive, haunting ending that seems incidental at first, but acquires an ominous, totemic power in its ability to linger in viewers’ memory well after watching.
This post was previously published on YouTube.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video