Peppermint Frappé, 1967

Peppermint Frappé opens to the image of a pair of hands meticulously cropping images from a fashion magazine for a personal scrapbook. The hands belong to an unassuming and conservative physician named Julian (José Luis López Vázquez) who runs a radiology clinic from his personal residence, assisted by a shy, mild mannered nurse named Ana (Geraldine Chaplin). One afternoon, Julian pays a visit to his childhood friend, Pablo (Alfredo Mayo), a charismatic and sophisticated adventurer who has recently returned from Africa with the unexpected news that he has married a beautiful and carefree young woman named Elena (Geraldine Chaplin). The sight of the captivating Elena visibly stuns Julian, as he recalls an incident that would pervade his thoughts and invariably define his image of the feminine ideal – the sight of a pious young woman who had continuously beaten a ceremonial drum despite physical discomfort during a Good Friday ceremony. Julian confronts Elena with his vivid memory of the episode, but she proves to be oblivious to the past encounter. Nevertheless, despite Elena’s cosmopolitan demeanor and obvious dissimilarity with the elusive penitent drummer, Julian falls hopelessly in love with her. Frustrated by his inability to win Elena’s affection, Julian turns his attention to Ana, as he attempts to recreate his haunted image through his trusting, devoted nurse.

Carlos Saura presents a taut and compelling examination of obsession in Peppermint Frappé. As in Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (and Saura’s subsequent film, Cría Cuervos), Saura uses surreal and haunted memories in order to create an allegorical chronicle of the pervasive repression of Franco-era Spain. By juxtaposing Julian’s seemingly innocent youthful recollections with his increasing obsession towards the unattainable Elena, Saura creates a harrowing portrait on aberrant behavior and perversion of reality: Julian’s observation of the Good Friday ceremony that led to his obsession with Elena; his glimpse of a children’s mock marriage ceremony between Pablo and a girl in the village; his voyeuristic glance through a keyhole as a posed Elena kneels in an abandoned bedroom. Similar to Luis Buñuel’s The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the desire to attain an elusive ideal woman results in a literal recreation of her image. Note the Vertigo-inspired, carnivalesque, circular camera tracking as Julian oversees Ana’s rowing machine exercises, Elena’s uninhibited dance in an open field as a mesmerized Julian takes photographs, Ana’s transformation at Julian’s weekend retreat. Dedicated to legendary filmmaker and compatriot, Luis Buñuel, Peppermint Frappé serves an irreverent, fascinating, and subversive document on the nature of uncertainty, repression, and desire.

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