Peppermint Soda (1979)

| September 21, 1979

Peppermint Soda is a movie that you could reach out and touch.  It’s characters are so specific, its observations so astute and its details are so delicately drawn that you never feel like and omniscient observer.  You feel like you’re in the room.  I live for films that live and breathe and this is one of them.

The story takes place in 1963 and centers on a 13-year-old French school girl named Anne Weber.  She is Jewish, skinny, awkward, bullied at school and has an older sister Frederique who seems to be doing much better at the whole social life thing.  To make matters worse, her mother and father are separated.  Her sister dominates her; mother is a misunderstanding authoritarian who doesn’t understand the impact that refusing to let her wear stocking is having on her social life, and further on her psychological well-being.  Those are the pieces of a great film, but it is the connecting tissue, the everyday feel of Anna’s life that make Peppermint Soda so wonderful.

Underneath it all, this is really the story of Diane Kurys who wrote and directed the film.  She lived this story so she knows every single moment by heart and by experience.  The story spans an entire school year in the life of a 13-year-old girl with such knowing and loving detail that she seems to be pulling from her own memories.  Anna teeters on that strange border between childhood and adolescence, when the world is confusing, when things are changing both socially,  domestically and physically.  But she isn’t a frustrated prodigy, she doesn’t have a great talent waiting to be discovered.  Anne is socially awkward and reasonably susceptible to the traps of her particular age.

Anne’s world is populated by uncaring, overbearing people, like her sister Frederique (Odile Michel) who is 15, and has an easier time.  She has a boyfriend and routinely receives letters that Anne steams open to read.  Meanwhile, Anne is jealous of her much more outgoing best friend who has her first boyfriend.

At school, her gym teacher is so heartless that she wears a fur coat while the girls run around in shorts.  Her math teacher is a milquetoast who is pathetically afraid of her own students.  Her art teacher is a frustrated old hag who won’t let the kids experience the joy of creativity.

At home, the distance between Anne and her parents is painfully clear.  Her mother is all about the rules but not the affections.  A visit from her father is awkward as Anne and Frederique feel little for him.  She is no more affectionate toward her mother’s new boyfriend.  Oddly enough in this atmosphere of indifference, Anne grows closer to Frederique when her best friend suddenly bails on her.

What makes Peppermint Soda so special are the details.  These events never feel inevitable.  They come into Anne’s story with the kind of random logic that only real life could bring.  Kurys understands every line, every emotion, every motivation.  Her story lives and breathes – it doesn’t just pad out the story to keep things motivated.  Anne’s life is so specific because we sense the breaking safety nets of childhood and the growing feeling of her own budding teenage rebellion.  At 13, Anne is entering that strange wonderland (or is it wasteland) of adolescent mystery: of the first pangs of love, of sexual feelings, of physical changes, of maturity, of social awkwardness and disappointments.

I so love this film.  I could talk about it all day.  I live for films like this.  After all the junk, after all the remakes and sequels and safe studio product that takes no chances, here is a film that I cherish.  It is personal, specific, moving and very perceptive.  It’s the kind of movie that you could live in, and in fact, many of us have lived in it.  It’s that knowing about the strange years of adolescence.  This is a film that I will cherish.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized