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Fowler’s Flix 02.14.19: Franco Excursions with Cohen Media

Cohen Films
Adolescent Anne (Eleonore Klarwein) faces the rigors of being a teenager in 1960s France in the contemporary classic "Peppermint Soda."
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I have written about Cohen Films before; it’s one of those labels that deserve to be singled out for their constant goal of bringing contemporary classics of typically French cinema to the mainstream. The wonderful discoveries that Cohen brings to the forefront of my must-buy list is a truly rare treat that puts them right up there with the Criterion Collection when it comes to not only selection, but presentation and restoration.

The trio of contemporary classics begins with the 1977 coming of age film Peppermint Soda. While most films about schoolgirls in the 1960’s often take a comedic view—think The Trouble With Angels, for example—this defiant mix of comedy and drama offers up a troubling school-year of two sisters and the different ways they have of dealing with life’s insurmountable problems, at least the ones at that age.

It’s 1963 and sisters Anne and Frederique are in the middle of an emotional upheaval—between dealing with warring parents and a stifling school system, they also find themselves going down different paths of life, one undergoing a political awakening while the other finding more in causing trouble, mostly for herself. Gorgeously directed by Diane Kurys, Peppermint Soda is a timeless view of teenage France, set in an era that very few of us even knew existed.

The famed painter Paul Gauguin (Vincent Cassel) is suffering from a malaise that only fame can bring.

Well-known but ultimately destitute while living in France, he leaves it all behind for a resurge of inspiration on the Polynesian islands in Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti. But, keep in mind, this isn’t some dumb comedy, in case my description led you to believe that.

No, instead this heartbreaking film is about how an artist falls in love with the breathtaking island and the Indigenous people, going deep into the jungle and living off the land. Using up most of his goodwill with both the people—and the audience—when he takes up with a young girl, his so-called Maori “muse “that might inspire his greatest works, but we’re left asking at what price when he leaves her behind in this highly challenging film.

Finally, the rise of anti-Semitism has exploded over the past few years, but nowhere near as much than in France. The documentary Spiral takes a cold, hard look at the factors that have made it almost as terrifying, since at least World War II, to be a Jew in modern Europe. It’s a sad fact, but one that we need to open our eyes to, and how the cycle of fear, hatred and violence spreads, and one that the film does admirably.

Capturing not only the lives of families fleeing France for the relative safety of Israel but also those that are causing the dissention, from everyday people to politicians, celebrities and even a comedian who uses the “playing dumb” method that so many racists typically do, Spiral at times is a nightmarish horror film, but this is all real and, if you read the papers lately, it’s hitting obviously close to home.

Sure, Cohen releases film from all over the world, but they are brilliant at showcasing the unheralded masters of French cinema, with a slate of releases that I wait for with absolutely baited breath.

Next week: More comedy from South Africa!

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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