Peppermint Soda ★★★★

A bit slight and slightly innocuous, perhaps, but also just what I needed after one of the more horrific days (nay, weeks) of my adult life, wherein not only did my bathroom ceiling literally collapse from water damage in a gesture of heavy-handed real life symbolism that even Darren Aronofsky might have found a bit on-the-nose (nearly a year to the day since my apartment flooded, no less!), but my more figurative hopes and dreams collapsed as my first attempt to shoot a short film (after weeks of agonizing preparation) turned out to be a complete shit-show of a different sort, leaving me uncertain whether I will continue out of concern for my emotional and psychological well-being.

Anyway, I didn't know much about director Diane Kurys prior to this, aside from Jonathan Rosenbaum's roundly dismissive review of this film's May '68-themed follow-up and companion piece Cocktail Molotov. His criticism that Kurys' worldview is hopelessly bourgeois isn't entirely without merit, exactly, although personally I think there are worse offenses for a film to make (and I'll take the inherent limitations of Kurys' or Eric Rohmer's bougie-ness over, say, Bunuel's condescending and superficial satires any day). Likewise, I think such criticisms sell Kurys slightly short. It's an easy type of film to enjoy, which also makes it easy to take for granted and overlook its unassuming accomplishments.

The operative word here is "charming", and one might draw a comparison between it and a modern-day equivalent like Lady Bird (or, although I haven't seen it, Eighth Grade might be an even more accurate analogy, at least age-wise). As with Gerwig's film, there's much that feels familiar to the point of appearing deceptively slight. Yet part of this, I suspect, has to do with the temptation to regard female coming-of-age stories as somehow less significant than supposedly weightier themes. I can't help but wonder why a film like Jean Eustache's My Little Loves (not to mention Truffaut's 400 Blows) is unanimously hailed as a major work whereas this is more easily dismissed as a piece of fluff, when both are covering roughly equivalent ground both thematically and stylistically.

Indeed, Kurys' style here, in keeping with the subject matter, is unobtrusive and unassuming yet quietly quite impressive. Simple, unadorned and somewhat "flat" compositions captured by a mostly static camera in what seems like natural light, Rohmer again would probably be the easy comparison here. Of course, Rohmer too is underrated as a visual stylist. I especially liked the juxtaposition of seemingly somewhat underexposed (?), low-contrast cinematography and monochromatic, primary color schemes. A distinctly '70s look, somehow, yet among the lovelier palates I can think of amongst a decade which I tend to rate as having some of the ugliest cinema has ever known.

Then again, I was probably more susceptible to this film's decidedly understated and "minor" charms that I normally might have been, had I not been suffering from a distinct lack of sweetness in my life (as Jonathan Richman might put it) these past few weeks. Sweet this film most certainly is, and sweets are a great stress-reliever (as my recent upswing in consumption of Toblerone bars would certainly attest). This has all the sunny charm of Agnes Varda without as much of the knotty thematic ambiguities one sometimes finds in her work. It goes down smooth and easy, but I don't think it completely passes over the complexities of adolescence either. In certain circumstances like this, sometimes being a bit bougie suits me just fine.