French coming of age classic “Peppermint Soda” now on Blu-ray
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Blu-ray; 1977; PG
Best extra: Interview with Director Diane Kurys
FRESH FROM a 40th anniversary 2K restoration, the autobiographical first film by French director Diane Kurys revisits her adolescence in Lyon.
The film’s original title, “Diabolo Menthe,” is the French name for a green mint syrup and lemonade fountain drink popular with youngsters. “Peppermint Soda” is set in the early 1960s, when 13-year-old Anne (Eléonore Klarwein) and her 15-year-old sister Frédérique (Odile Michel) are students in a strict private high school. The girls’ parents are divorced, so they divide their time by spending summers with their father at the seaside, and the school year with their mother in Lyon.
Coltish Anne wants more than anything to be as grown up as her sister, but suffers frequent, painful reminders of her lesser age and position in the world. Critics often compare “Peppermint Soda” to “The 400 Blows” for its realistic portrayal of the torments of childhood. But the comparison ends there. While Truffaut’s devastating masterpiece depicts a boy who is terribly neglected and abused, Anne’s life is comparatively soft – which does not take anything from Kurys’ thoroughly enjoyable movie. Comprised of vignettes which range from comical portraits of eccentric teachers to a moving speech by a student who witnessed a political demonstration that turned tragic, “Peppermint Soda” has a lovely honesty about its depiction of the two sisters’ coming of age. Its tremendous popular and critical success proves that Kurys’ very personal film touched on many universal truths.
This Cohen Film Collection Blu-ray looks terrific, containing plenty of detail and realistic skin tones, contrast, and colors. The images are pristine, with no signs of dirt or damage. The mono soundtrack is also very good, with French dialogue clear (English subtitles are provided) and the pleasant score, featuring what became a hit title song by Yves Simon, provides just the right counterpoint to the action.
They were originally presented on a 2008 French DVD of the film, include an interview with Eléonore Klarwein; another with Yves Simon; a brief piece in which Kurys looks at her scrapbook collection of ephemera related to the film; and a couple of trailers.
The meaty interview with Kurys is particularly interesting. The director says she “was already dreaming up this film” while she was in school: “I stored up angers, frustrations … I knew one day I’d have to tell the story.” She adds that she “built up images … a collage … from school, family, childhood … little moments.” After a frustrating try at acting, Kurys began to write her memories, in the form of a screenplay. A friend suggested she pitch it as a movie since the subject of a girl’s adolescence had never before been treated on the screen. Kurys says having the film made and seen was therapeutic for her: “I opened myself up … and people connected … it changed my life. I became a director!”
Anne's fruitless plea for nylon stockings, but Her mother insists she's too young.
She says she aimed the film at people her age, who had been 13 or 14 in the 1960s. She recalls working with her cinematographer, Philippe Rousselot, who taught her about camera and lenses and helped her deal with initial nerves. Much of “Peppermint Soda” was shot on location at Kurys’ old high school, which she found especially delightful.
When advised to put some comedy in the film, Kurys enlisted the help of well-known French comics, which resulted in a few brief bits of physical humor. For an extremely emotional scene, Kurys spent hours researching the tragic demonstration against the war in Algeria, which provided the basis for the student’s stirring speech.
“Peppermint Soda” was an instant success, quickly winning an important French critics’ award. Kurys reminisces about the premiere in Lyon, which her older sister (to whom she dedicated the film) attended. When Kurys returned to her hotel room, she discovered a single rose on her pillow and a blank check, with “10,000 pardons” written on it.
Regarding the longevity of “Peppermint Soda,” Kurys notes, “When a film tells the truth, it doesn’t age.”
— Peggy Earle
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