We’ve all probably seen too many syrupy coming of age films over the years. So it’s a pleasure to see a film about adolescents that avoids sentimentality and cliches. In director Diane Kurys’s hands a story of the Weber sisters, Anne, 13 (Eléonore Klarwein), and Frédérique, 15 (Odile Michel), is as fresh today as it must have seemed when it was released more than 40 years ago.
It’s gently comic without slipping into silliness and has its melancholy moments without resorting to melodrama. It’s a rare animal these days — a film about teens that doesn’t pander to young people. Rather, Peppermint Soda looks back at childhood through the lens of an adult perhaps reminiscing about her own childhood.
The film announces itself as a period piece taking place in 1963 — the Kennedy assassination has just taken place, tensions between France and Algiers are still current events, the bomb is on everyone’s mind — but otherwise, thankfully there’s no suffocating sense of nostalgia permeating the air. The film feels as current as anything being released today. Of course, these American eyes may be missing any number of clues that would immediately call up that era to one steeped in French culture.
“…daydream about potential boyfriends…and the mechanics of sex…”
Like adolescence itself, the daily lives of the individuals we meet are replete with comic moments, sadness, regret and an overarching sense of loneliness. The girls are shuttled between divorced parents, although they mainly live with their mother, Mme Weber (Anouk Ferjac). Their father (Michel Puterflam) lives 200 miles away and seems distracted whenever they’re together.
The girls are often left on their own, and although Anne is failing at school, they surprisingly avoid the kind of teen mischief that you’d expect from a lesser film. This one is intent in presenting a realistic portrait of teens coming of age in an era of family dissipation and political unrest. There’s an undercurrent of anti-Semitism and racism as well as a hint of burgeoning fascist politics in the air. These issues serve more as a backdrop to the story, which keeps its focus on the girls’ day to day lives.
“…like peppermint soda: fizzy and pleasing going down, and then tingles the palate afterward.”
For the most part, Anne and her friends daydream about potential boyfriends, which none has had, and the mechanics of sex, of which they have a limited understanding. There’s one particularly hilarious line of dialogue about that, but I won’t spoil it.
As the story progresses, tension rises when Frédérique’s classmate, Muriel (Marie-Véronique Maurin), goes missing. Muriel lost her mother to suicide the previous year, so there’s more than a hint of foreboding about her disappearance.
This is a charming film that makes its impact not with contrived plot points designed to trigger cheap emotional responses, but with disarmingly honest portrayals of the lives of each of the film’s characters. An irresistible comparison that’s probably been made often about this film is that it’s like peppermint soda: fizzy and pleasing going down, and then tingles the palate afterward. Likewise, the film feels light and wispy as you watch, and later it occurs to you that you’ve just taken in a more substantial story than you might have first thought. As beverages and films go, it’s all rather refreshing.
Peppermint Soda (1977) Directed by Diane Kurys. Written by Diane Kurys, Alain Le Henry. Starring Eléonore Klarwein, Odile Michel, Anouk Ferjac, Michel Puterflam, Yves Rénier, Robert Rimbaud. Peppermint Soda celebrated its 40th anniversary with a 2K restoration in theaters.
9 out of 10 plats de glacé au chocolat