Growing up is never easy and when you’re a girl on the cusp of womanhood, it can be worse (trust me). You fight the naïvety, loneliness and quiet rebellion of adolescence, face the ups and downs of school and try to balance a tumultuous home-life having never really gotten over your parents’ divorce – as is the premise of Peppermint Soda. Everyday battles include struggling to have a relationship with an overwrought mother who, not only, has a radically different one with your sister but seems to have little room for you outside of her new boyfriend and recent Psoriasis diagnosis.
It’s about a year (1963) of stolen kisses, summers on the beaches of Normandy and winter skiing trips, the loss of innocence, first love, as that awkward boy pays attention, and you finally get your first period. Music punctuates your daily life. Being curious and suspicious of sex is a given and rebelling in any small nylon way you can, desperately vying for the attention and affection of said older sister who must see how fragile you are; how angry and frustrated you are by everything, your altogether sullen nature when not bursting into tears but then, she has her own issues to deal with…
Peppermint Soda [Diabolo menthe] is arguably the first of its kind – a female-helmed and led film which deals explicitly with girls and growing pains, sisterhood, and its unbreakable bond. There have been many male-led dramas, not least The 400 Blows (1959), to which this film owes its final shot yet films such as this and À ma soeur [Fat Girl] (2001), Tomboy (2011), The Wonders (2015), Mustang (2015 and Divines (2016) are particularly important because they are framed and written by women and depict how girls see themselves, and not only validate their existence in a largely non-sexualised way but tend to encapsulate beautiful storytelling within a very small window of adolescence and puberty.
Based upon director Diane Kurys’ own youth, this delightful film largely takes place within the classrooms and corridors of the Lycée Jules-Ferry. The teachers at which are sarcastic, cruel, sadistic and mean-spirited or a laughing stock held together by frayed nerves. The whole place has a surreal edge to it, and its characters. Keep an eye out for Mme. Clou (Dora Doll) the gym teacher who dresses in an Adidas tracksuit, neck towel, full face of make-up, fur coat and hair turban.
For all of its lighter moments, there are heartbreaking ones – played out against elements of the political climate in 60s France – few of which are resolved. Peppermint Soda is light on plot and is edited together like several vignettes, and while Anne (Eléonore Klarwein) is very much the main character, there are moments which veer into Frédérique’s (Odile Michel) subjectivity and it’s seamless. Both sisters exhibit a maturity which can dissolve, more noticeably by the former, into a petulant childishness which strikes a chord, we’ve all been there, and it’s what makes this story so universal and timeless. The siblings are together and yet totally separate as they advance into adulthood and realise that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Friendships are forged, broken and lost in an instant.
Frank, funny and painfully realistic, Peppermint Soda is deftly directed, charmingly written, and a triumphant portrayal of the edge of adolescence, and who doesn’t love to be reminded of that time. Merde!