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Politics is the wild card in Diane Kurys' Peppermint Soda, a unique coming-of-age movie even within the underserved category of girls' coming-of-age stories. Female writers and directors tend to tackle young women's battles with their emotions and rapidly changing bodies, often through the lens of sex and romance, but few films about young men and even fewer films about young women tackle the way larger political ideas trickle in as kids become teenagers. There's a sense that Soda is a little less comprehensible in this regard viewed from both an American and 21st century perspective, with some of the cultural mores and details lost to time and translation, but this element still provides an intriguingly complex backdrop to an insistently realistic portrait of the end of childhood.
Kurys' method of integrating politics into the film is never particularly overt. There are simply hints among the fringes that the kids are tuned into some form of unrest, a political electricity boiling under the surface. The teachers at the girls' school are cold and sometimes cruel, and the girls chatter about banding together out of protest. In a brief scene, Anne informs the family when John F. Kennedy is assasinated, and in another, graffiti equating the OAS (a right-wing French paramilitary organization) to the SS can be spotted prominently on a wall. Sexual politics also creep into the picture, similarly lingering along the edges of the frame. Anne and Frederique are visibly processing the dynamics of the relationship between their split-up parents. Frederique dates a boring boy (learning the all-important coming-of-age lesson that camping sucks), and makes out with an older man who does not return her affections. Later, there is a hint of an implication that she might be interested in exploring her sexuality, with an explicitly political classmate, and she takes on a man's role in a school play.
What's most interesting about Kurys' approach is that she is willing to embrace ambiguity and uncertainty. Even some of the greatest films about teen girls are made with a knowing tone, filtered through the perspective of adult women who now know better. Peppermint Soda stays rooted in the perspective of Frederique, and to a greater extent, Anne, who sometimes acts out toward her sister and mother in ways she simply doesn't understand (which she says out loud at one point). The uncertainty of emotional turmoil dovetails with the precarious political backdrop of the movie, with a lingering sense that the status quo is a juggling act one mistake away from disaster. However, unlike 2018's Eighth Grade (which comes to mind because Anne is in eighth grade), the characters seem oblivious to that anxiousness, with the exception of the girls' mother.
The subtlety of Kurys' approach extends beyond the themes and tone, informing the film's whole approach. This is a slice-of-life sort of movie, lacking any traditional conflict or plot. The story is framed by summer vacations on the beach with dad, the first of which is followed by the return home for the start of the school year. If there's anything that will hold the film at arm's length for contemporary viewers, it's this meandering, unstructured approach. The film is personal (as evidenced by Kurys' dedication to her own sister at the beginning), but lacks much in the way of nostalgia, presenting the ups and downs of the school year in a dry, matter-of-fact way, and although Anne serves as a focal point, we don't necessarily feel what she feels. It's an approach that may frustrate, but it doesn't prevent Peppermint Soda from having a ring of lived-in authenticity.
Cohen Media released the 2K restoration of Peppermint Soda included on this disc for a limited theatrical run, and the art on the front of their Blu-ray release is based on their new poster, showing Anne on the beach. It's a strange choice, one which isn't technically wrong but doesn't do much or have much bearing on the film as a whole. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-ray case, and there are two inserts: a booklet containing a chapter and cast list and some photos from the film, and a miniature catalog of select Cohen Media releases.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.66:1 1080p AVC and with an LPCM 2.0 Mono French soundtrack, this new 2K master of Peppermint Soda looks and sounds pretty impressive. After an introductory optical shot, the film graduates into a nicely detailed and filmlike image. Colors appear accurate and free of modern revisionist tendencies, and the source material was apparently in good shape, as there is no evidence of print damage. Compression appears strong. The sound is limited, as it is a mono mix, but the dialogue and music are clean and vibrant for their age. English subtitles are also included.
Bonus features have been ported over from what was presumably a French release of the film from 2008. Although these are archival extras, they are worth a look, especially the first one: an interview with writer/director Diane Kurys (33:10). Kurys has great memories of the making of the film, speaking about her extended writing process for the film, the contributions others made to the process (including some of the jokes and the knockout scene where Corrine Dacla's character Pascale talks about police brutality in the Charonne Metro station), the success of the film's independent marketing efforts (including the original French poster, by popular French artist Floc'h), and the legacy of the film in France. She also tells an especially moving story about cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, and how he helped give Kurys confidence the night before and on the first day of filming, which is worth the watch alone.
The next interview, with star Eleonore Klarwein (7:37), is much less substantial, with Klarwein acknowledging that she was probably cast less for her innate acting talent and more because she was "right for the part" at that moment in her life. She also touches on Kurys' ability to brighten her set, and what it was like for her after the film became a phenomenon. This is followed by "A Meeting With Yves Simon" (12:45), in which the musician reminisces about meeting Kurys and her request that he score the film, the letter he received (from Corrine Dalca!) that help him write the film's title track, the influences that went into the style and arrangement of the song, and a funny anecdote about the revised album art after the film was a hit. His final story, about his wife, might raise a few more eyebrows in 2019 than it did in 2008.
The extras wrap up with a "Diane Kurys' Scrapbook" (3:23), which is an additional bit of her interview where she pulls out a box filled with documents, including the original script, photos from the set, original storyboards, posters, and magazine clippings, and shows some of them off for the camera.
A promo for the Cohen Media Channel and trailers for The Great Buster, The Aspern Papers, and The Bostonians play before the main menu. Two trailers for Peppermint Soda are also included, although both of these are for the re-release, with no original 1977 trailers included.
Peppermint Soda is not necessarily a crowd-pleaser, with ideas and an approach that may not work for American audiences in 2019. However, it is a fascinating, unique, and memorable film, and Cohen Media's presentation earns a recommendation.
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