The '68 Comeback Special: Peppermint Frappé

And so we come to end of this particular experiment, fittingly on one of the more experimental films that played the 1968 Cannes Film Festival. David Cairns and I have now written about every film in competition, re-throwing the cursed Fest in the theatres of our mind. I admit it's tough to feel too bad for Carlos Saura, whose autumnal wet dream Peppermint Frappé is the subject of the final review of the '68 Comeback Special, as he seemed to have a film at every other festival. Pity Geraldine Chaplin who may very well have walked off with Best Actress. She isn't my pick (Lisa Gastoni gets my vote for making that celluloid califig Grazie Zia, a film otherwise barely preferable to suicide, worth watching) but she undoubtedly would have been the talk of the press. She plays two women who have to represent the split halves of a dentist's retarded sexual ideal (Buñuel tried this a decade later in That Obscure Object of Desire, which is less fun, if also less kitschy). She's meek and passive as the dentist's assistant, passionate and unknowable as his friend's lover. She has to be simultaneously hot and cold as the temptress and drowned as the frump; the issue isn't that she's not great, simply that Saura isn't asking all that much of her. Being too afraid to say no on the one hand and on the other so full of sexual energy that you dance spontaneously every few scenes isn't really all that difficult a range to grasp. Saura's probably making a point about the man they orbit, a barely repressed bourgeoise meant as a stand-in for the worst of the Franco-ite Spanish aristocracy, but it does limit Chaplin from really earning best actress, at least to this false juror.

Give Saura this: Chaplin has maybe the best introduction any character's ever been had:

I really do need to watch more of Saura's films. Working under Franco meant masking his rage in symbolism, which makes for fascinating, if occasionally too cool viewing. Cria Cuervos doesn't quite hit me the same way Spirit of the Beehive does. It wasn't until the 80s that he was allowed to make his kind of movie without worrying about an 'editor' standing behind him looking for subtext. The issue then became that his fellow countryman hated what he did with himself after Franco died because the subject matter felt too typically Spanish, or anyway the kind of Spanish Franco wanted from the national artists. Making bold, lusty musicals with a battery of flamenco dancers was seen as regressive and a slap in the face to artists who suffered under Fascism. Poor Saura had been making anti-fascist films the whole time and just wanted to speak above a whisper for once. For what it's worth his interest in song and dance is foregrounded here. As I mentioned Chaplin dances Many many times, with the dentist (played by rather unappealing José Luis López Vázquez) and without. As subtext it doesn't always work but as an opportunity for Saura to freely indulge in something that appealed to him, instead of all the Freudian tiptoeing around the Generalisimo, it's really pretty touching. It excuses more hamfisted skulduggery like when our man makes his lady friend work out in a prototype exercise rowboat. It boggles in the moment but in hindsight it's tough not to smirk at. The incisive and the ridiculous dance almost as much as Chaplin, and it's compelling until you think too hard about it. I might be more fond of his 1960 Cannes entry Los Golfos, a neo realist gang film that meets between Los Olvidados, Rebel Without A Cause and I Vitelloni, but there's no denying the haunting effulgence of Peppermint Frappé.

And it just wouldn't be the '68 Comeback Special if I didn't take a moment to relate Saura's covert politicking with the cancellation of its one outlet. Saura did so much to nestle a potentially dangerous X-Ray of Spanish society into an erotic psychodrama and how did the supposed revolutionaries minding the shop react? By ignoring the possibility that he had anything to say. Infuriating, no? I may have issues with Peppermint Frappé as I did with a lot of the films in competition but they can't compare with my anger at the party who shut down the festival. The movement, spearheaded by established directors, didn't think for a second that the issues plaguing Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, the UK or Spain could meaningfully compete with their experience. A criminal lack of empathy from artists whose filmographies were largely founded on the political and personal problems of middle class white Parisians. That the men who made A Man and a Woman, Elevator To The Gallows, Jules and Jim and Le Chinoise would turn a blind eye to international cinema when it needed most to be seen is all the more disgusting because no one cares or talks about what went missing when the curtains closed. If the festivals showing Jafar Panahi's missives from House Arrest were cancelled, would it be so easy to stay on the side that spoke the loudest? All I hope is that we learn and that in reviewing these films David and I have made you curious enough to seek out this misplaced piece of history. I can't give the festival back to those who needed it: Saura, Jiří Menzel,  Sándor Sára, Albert Finney, Peter Collinson, Menahem Golan, the recently deceased Miklós Jancsó, Kaneto Shindō, Carlo Lizzani, Witold Leszczyński, Bahrudin Čengić, Marcello Fondato or the long gone Mai Zetterling, Valerio Zurlini, Aleksandr Zarkhi and Rudolf Noelte. Nothing can. But we can't let their art vanish. Not again.

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