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Peppermint Frappé

Posted by martinteller on January 20, 2013

The radiologist Julian (José Luis López Vázquez) visits his childhood friend Pablo (Alfredo Mayo) having not seen him for a long time.  Julian is struck by Pablo’s new bride, the vivacious and carefree Elena (Geraldine Chaplin).  Elena looks remarkably similar to a girl Julian remembered seeing years before, beating a drum in a Holy Week parade.  Elena claims it wasn’t she, but it’s too late… Julian is wildly obsessed with her.  Unable to draw her away from Pablo, he focuses his attentions on his shy, frumpy nurse Ana (also Chaplin), trying to mold her into Elena’s image.

I didn’t intend to watch two movies with Vázquez back-to-back… in fact, I didn’t even know beforehand that he was in either of them.  He turns in another excellent performance here.  The film is dedicated to Buñuel (and now that’s two reviews in a row where I invoke the name of Buñuel) and Julian is very much like a character from one of that director’s films.  You could imagine Fernando Rey in the role… although that’s no knock on Vázquez.  Julian has a sexually obsessive tendency to compartmentalize women’s body parts — in the opening credits, we see him cutting up female images from magazines — as he focuses on a leg, a hand, an eyelash.  As a radiologist, he sees people as pieces that fit together.  His treatment of Ana is blatantly, shamelessly manipulative (shades of Vertigo) and he trembles with frustrated desire in the face of Elena.  Chaplin — whom Saura would have a long relationship with, both professional and personal — is superb as well, handling a dual role as well as anyone else I can think of.

Saura’s visuals are stunning, warm lighting and bright, vibrant colors all over the place… like the ubiquitous titular beverage that Julian prefers, a shocking green.  Intriguing flashbacks to Julian’s childhood are done in a pleasantly grainy black and white.  There are some delicious 360-degree camera movements.  The set design is extraordinary as well, like the ultra-modern art deco room Julian keeps in the midst of the shambling ruins of his childhood abode.  The music is quite good, although there is a repeated pop song (by Los Canarios) that isn’t nearly as good nor as catchy as the unforgettable “Porque Te Vas” from Cria Cuervos.

There are probably depths here that I didn’t catch on to during this first viewing, but you can certainly read it as an allegory for Franco-era Spain, with men ruthlessly steamrolling others for personal gain.  But it also works wonderfully as an intriguing psychosexual character study/thriller.  I kind of wish it went a little further in exploring and expanding Julian’s obssession, the film feels like it could use more development… especially in the Julian/Ana dynamic.  But the developments we get are very intriguing, and tinged with black comedy.  I heartily recommend it, one of the best I’ve seen by Saura.  Rating: Very Good (87)


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