It’s rare to see a rites of passage film told exclusively from the female perspective. With this BFI-sanctioned re-release, we’re privy to not one but two young women as they awkwardly navigate their way through adolescence.
Diane Kurys’ 1977 autobiographical debut – known in its native country of France as the altogether more enticing Diabolo Menthe – is light on plot, and instead offers a series of wryly-observed snapshots of the often tumultuous transition to womanhood. Despite the far from sugar-coated world the protagonists face, the film has levity and heart, stemming largely from the engaging turns by the two young leads, from whom Kurys coaxes believable and entirely credible performances.
Paris in the early 1960’s and 13 year-old Anne (Eléonore Klarwein) has returned to the harsh realities of another school year after idling the summer away on a beach holiday with her older sibling Frédérique (Odile Michel) and divorcee father. Both sisters attend the same all-girls school where they are forever in conflict with the tough, authoritarian teaching staff. Anne is flunking badly and appears completely apathetic to her education, despite pleas from her exasperated mother to behave and apply herself.
Frédérique, two years her sister’s senior, is the more academic and focused of the two, yet her own studies begin to drift as she slowly becomes politicised during the social upheavals that being to emerge. The film is shot by legendary cinematographer Philippe Rousselot who perfectly captures the girls’ stark landscape – their school with its drab, greying exterior evokes the feeling of a prison. This is further accentuated by the behaviour of their teachers, who are seemingly intent on keep the pupils in check through a series of humiliating and faintly dehumanising exercises. Indeed, the duo also seem to live something of a solitary existence in their mother’s cramped apartment, often being left there alone as she takes off for the weekend with her boyfriend.
Given the sometimes downbeat nature of the film, Kurys still allows for some warm humour to trickle through, particularly a very funny scene which sees Anne and her classmates innocently engage in the kind of confident yet hugely naïve sex talk of that inexperienced age. While only a French coming-of-age film could nonchalantly toss around a reference to eminent auteur Alain Resnais, Peppermint Soda is entirely accessible and offers a refreshing and worthy counterpart to the most recognised entries in this largely male-dominated subgenre.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76