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Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Peppermint Soda (Dir. Diane Kurys, 1977)

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!

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Review

Review: Boy (Dir. Taika Waititi, 2015)

The year is 1984, and 11-year-old Boy (James Rolleston) welcomes us into his “interesting world” as he stands before his classmates and recounts who he is, what he likes (Michael Jackson), and who he shares his life with. There’s Nan (Mavis Paenga), cousins Miria, Kiko, Che, Hucks and Kelly, Aunty Gracey (Rachel House) who’s a tennis coach, the “mailman”, school bus driver and manager of the local shop; a pet goat named Leaf and a six-year-old brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu). Rocky thinks he has superpowers. Bless him, he doesn’t.

Boy’s interests include art (cue desk graffiti), social studies (getting picked on by older boys) and Michael Jackson. His other idol is his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), a master carver, deep sea treasure diver, captain of the rugby team and holder of the record for punching people out with a single fist. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth but in Boy’s world, reality isn’t really the mainstay, he is a kid after all.

After Nan leaves to attend a funeral, he’s the man of the house and so he ensures all the younger children wash, eat and generally thrive, until Alamein Sr returns to Waihau Bay, fresh out of prison, seeking a “treasure” he buried in the field opposite the house. It gives him the perfect opportunity to reconnect with his estranged sons as long as they stop calling him Dad… it’s “weird”. Boy, initially thrilled by his father’s return, soon comes to the painful realisation that his father isn’t the hero he imagined. In complete contrast, Rocky’s reluctance to accept the man he has never known comes full circle and his doubt and suspicion turns to respect. The moment all three boys reach the point of transformation is a deeply moving and beautiful thing, and harks back to that opening quote perfectly – “You could be happy here… we could grow up together” (E.T., 1982). 

Boy is a thematically rich film and one which comments upon rurality, poverty, childhood, adulthood and grief while using magical realism, animation, mythology and a free-spirited style which also incorporates intertextuality and 80s popular culture to bring Waititi’s approach to identity and masculinity to the screen. That very specific form and unique Aotearoa voice has been so prevalent since those couple of Taika-written and directed episodes of Flight of the Conchords.

While including visuals of the sublime landscape, hostile terrain and open roads that have long been associated with New Zealand cinema, Waititi also gives us a Māori film rich in culture and beautiful hues of colour via a nostalgic trip to the eighties. The absentee father within a Māori family is just one of the thematic links Boy has to Once Were Warriors (1994) and Whale Rider (2002), however, here the comedy and pathos, drama and fantasy is – as one has come to expect following Eagle vs. Shark (2007), What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – charmingly measured.

Rolleston is wonderful in the titular role, however, one can’t help but fall in love with the largely mute and thoughtful, cape-wearing Rocky as both boys shine in this endearing and magical coming-of-age drama. Waititi is equally adorable as the misunderstood big boy of the trio, Alamein, a man who has yet to truly face his responsibilities or fully embrace adulthood but whose little men will help him pull his socks up. Boy is a big-hearted film – possibly even Waititi’s finest – poignant, funny, an effortless joy. Oh, and that Haka hybrid is genius.

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Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: My Life as a Dog (Dir. Lasse Hallström, 1985)

Lasse Hallström seems to have an affinity with pups, recently in cinemas with A Dog’s Purpose and before that, there was the utterly heartbreaking Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009). It all began, however, with his first feature 1985’s My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund) which has now been transferred from original film to High Definition Blu-ray by Arrow Academy.

Based on Reidar Jönsson’s autobiographical novel, the film is set in late fifties Sweden and centres upon Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius); a gentle soul, if a little eccentric. He’s ‘married’ to a local girl (by cutting his thumb and having her suck the blood), gets his penis stuck in a bottle during a sex education class, and displays a slight tremor when drinking. Ingemar is twelve. He’s also attempting to live life as normally as possible while his terminally ill mother (Anki Lidén) screams bloody murder at her two sons, and fades slowly awaiting her final days.

Ingemar likens himself to Laika – the Soviet dog that was sent up into space, launched on a one-way trip aboard Sputnik 2, and ultimately left to die. Big feelings for a child who’s convinced things could be worse and one day he’ll be happy as he is packed off to spend the summer with Uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen) and Aunt Ulla (Kicki Rundgren), and the wonderfully unconventional cast of characters who inhabit Småland. There’s Manne (Jan-Philip Hollström), the boy with green hair, Saga (Melinda Kinnaman) the girl obsessed with boxing and football whose burgeoning breasts are tightly bound so she can stay on the team. Ailing Mr Arvidsson (Didrik Gustavsson) who lives in the basement of Gunnar’s house and likes to be read the lingerie catalogue, in order to silence the persistent roof-hammering of Fransson (Magnus Rask). He’s convinced the noisy neighbour wants to finish him off via the knock-knock-knocking of the metal head against wood. Even Uncle Gunnar with his cleavage obsession and his old vinyl copy of ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’ (which he plays on repeat) is a tad awkward and sweetly peculiar.

Regardless of their character traits there’s warmth and sincerity and real affection for our young protagonist despite being left at kennel after kennel, never completely wanted by anybody. It’s a remarkable performance by Anton Glanzelius) whose range, sensitivity and affecting depth belies his age and impish grin. While not as dark a piece as Cría Cuervos (1976), it does deal with a lot of the same issues and rests on the young shoulders of its lead(s), as the loss of innocence hits profoundly and they find themselves thrust somewhat prematurely into adulthood. Cinema Paradiso (1988) would follow – and would nicely round off this highly recommended triple-bill – even the US-produced October Sky (1999), clearly took some of its cues and hues from this Academy Award nominated Swedish film.

Hallström has made many pictures since 1985 and there has always been a gentility to his oeuvre, whether he’s dealing with ABBA, cider, chocolate, or Grapes and this bittersweet film extolling the virtues of rural communities and growing pains is no different. This is a warm, whimsical, funny and moving tale of a boy and his search for family; a place he can call home. Canines aside, My Life as a Dog is Lasse’s masterpiece.