Billed as a thriller, this 1967 Spanish art film seems far from it most of the way. There’s a slight underlying tautness to it (though even that might be a product of my reading ahead of time that it’s supposed to be a thriller), but the bulk of Peppermint Frappé is slow and uneventful.
A doctor has a powerful memory of a blonde fervently playing a drum in a public procession on Good Friday. Evidently it was some kind of love at first sight thing, as he’s had her on his mind ever since.
Then his friend he’s known since childhood shows up with a new young wife, who turns out to be the girl with the drum, or at least the doctor thinks so. He has a chance to spend some time with her one-to-one and then the three of them spend more time together, and he falls in love with her. He makes no secret of his obsession with her, which she seems to not take very seriously, seemingly just stringing him along and enjoying the fact that she can affect him as she has.
Is she in fact the same person? It might not even add up mathematically. I don’t think it’s specified when he saw the drummer, but it seems to be a distant memory, like from his childhood or early adulthood. But his friend’s wife I’m guessing is about fifteen years younger than him and his friend, so she presumably would have been a child back then, if she’d been born at all. In the clips showing his memory, she looks to be not substantially younger than now.
So it’s probably not her. But then again, if I’m interpreting the age thing correctly then it should be obvious to him as well that they can’t both be the same person, yet he’s convinced she’s the drummer he remembers. So maybe the memory is more recent.
He asks her directly more than once if she is indeed that same person. Sometimes she denies it, but in a sly way like she’s teasing him about it. Other times she laughs it off non-committally. Later she tells her husband about it, and they both laugh at him over it. (The husband seems largely unconcerned with his friend’s obvious interest in his wife.)
I’m not sure in the end if we’re supposed to know if she’s the drummer or not.
Meanwhile the doctor decides to put the moves on his nurse, after inexplicably waiting four years. She’s something of a shy, mousy type, and she proves easy for him to manipulate. He gradually pushes her into looking more and more like the woman he’s really in love with.
This woman he’s obsessed with perhaps represents one version of the female sexual ideal, but not really one I’m all that impressed by. She’s fairly good looking (Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine, who actually also plays the mousy nurse in a dual role), a kind of frivolous, happy-go-lucky type who maintains a slight air of mystery about her.
That kind of woman can be interesting for about five minutes, but beyond that, let’s just say it’s a good thing she’s good looking. Because I’d much rather be with someone with a brain with whom you can have an intelligent conversation, and who speaks directly and openly without playing little verbal games.
Somewhere around the midway point if not slightly beyond, the film finally picks up a little bit as the doctor behaves more peculiarly and obsessively, especially in how he dominates the nurse and gradually transforms her.
But it isn’t clearly an action or thriller type movie until literally the last five minutes. It’s a decent, dramatic ending, though even there it’s got kind of an artsy feel to it, where it doesn’t really add up why people are doing what they’re doing (I’m thinking of the nurse especially), like maybe it’s some kind of fantasy or something.
Part of the problem is a lot of the movie is intended to be some kind of symbolic thing about Franco’s Spain, and how people are repressed like the country’s oppressed, and there’s disagreement about what the past was and whether it should be conserved, and stuff like that, and of course that all goes over my head. The story just as a story is slow to unfold with a bit of a punch at the end but otherwise very little happening.
I suppose there’s a decent amount going on psychologically, though, and that’s probably why I didn’t experience Peppermint Frappé as being quite as dull as I’m making it sound.
Even given that, though, this still is not a film that won me over. I can’t say I got much out of it.