My area of film focus is the genre of coming-of- age films and today I am going to be comparing two films, The American film Lady Bird directed by Greta Gerwig, 2017, and Peppermint Soda 1977 directed by Diane Kurys in France and investigating how the transitions from youth to adulthood in different cultures are depicted in coming of age films.
Growing up, transitioning from childhood to adulthood is full of awkward, uncomfortable changes, coupled with varying mental progressions as your whole perspective of the world and your identity goes through a series of developments. Often these changes are depicted in coming-of-age films, a genre that seeks to relate to a general audience through stereotypical moments during the transitions from childhood to adulthood. Personal growth and change is an important aspect of this genre, and directors rely on dialogue and playing with emotions to address these psychological aspects.
Often these films include moments of young rebellious actions or moral conflict and while this is risking suddenly losing the empathy of the audience, it is impactful in genuinely showing an imperfect protagonist on a journey to develop into a better person and a more realistic depiction of flawed humanity. The audience has to be able to relate and sympathize for the characters as they make their progression into adulthood. Traditionally the structure of coming-of-age films follow very simple formulas, it follows the course of one school year, or a short period of personal growth in highschool. Movies such as The Breakfast Club, Juno and Kings of Summer, cover a short period of time that sparked an enlightenment and show a moral progression. The two films I am investigating today, Lady Bird and Peppermint Soda follow the course of a full year, showing moments of moral conundrum, stereotypical acts of children and teenagers and signs of growth.
Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig is about Christine, who opts to be called Lady Bird, in her senior year about to go to College. It follows the course of a single school year, through the navigated through friendships, relationships, struggles with identity and feats of the future ,through openhearted awkward first experiences of romance, through family tension and the acknowledgment of financial difficulties.
Peppermint Soda follows the development of two sisters in France, ages 12 and 15 with the school year starting in the fall of 1963, and the reverberations of the Algerian war still being felt in France. It shows the girls experiencing heartbreak, moments of moral dilemma, family bonds and other issues surrounding growing-up.
The timing of these coming-of-age films is the first thing that shows a significant cultural difference, the time for a person to transition into adulthood in America is their senior year, right before going to college, the movie starts off with Lady Bird and her mother looking into colleges, and later there is a montage of shots showing off Lady Bird’s catholic school day as there is a narration of the head minister talking about the uncertainty of the future. Children in America develop relatively later than children in European countries such as France, this delayed entrance into adulthood could be the over reliance children in America have on their parents due to traditional family roles and financial dependence.
In Lady Bird, the eighteen year old protagonist is often seen being driven around to her destinations by her mother, her parents cook meals, and she desires to go away to the other side of the country for college in search of independence. but is supposedly unable to due to her financial dependence on her parents. This differs greatly from the Peppermint Soda girls growing up in France, that are increasingly independent, at the ages of 12 and 15 these girls walk and take the train on their own, there are several shots of them walking on the streets, the mise-en-scene highlighting their independence as no one else is on the street making their solitude a symbol for their freedom. There is also a scene in which the younger girl Anne is cooking on her own, sitting next to the pot in the kitchen on the counter, this scene shows how the girls are able to function without their guardians, they are introduced to the fundamentals of life on an earlier basis.
In both films cigarettes are used as symbols of maturity, in this scene Lady Bird just turned 18 and immediately goes to the pharmacy and buys a pronographic magazine and cigarettes, the things that become legal at her age and is buying them as a symbolic gesture of her maturity and a close up of her smoking outside is then shown, in another scene she is having a heart to heart with a friend sharing a cigarette, and this symbolizes emotional maturity.
In Peppermint Soda, the older girl who is 15 is seen smoking on several occasions, Smoking is often popular among young people in France , who see it as a rite of passage and a part of the culture, but it starts at an earlier age than 18. According to the NPR 40 percent of girls younger than 17 smoke, and the general population pays no mind as this is normal in their culture.
In France, adolescents are raised to mature at a younger age than in America, and cultural factors such as tobacco use give insight as to how older society views their youth.
As far as the structure of the films go they have very similar structures, although Lady Bird is more plot driven and Peppermint Soda looks at a slice-of-life in the two young girls childhood. Lady Bird has a goal, she wants to go to college in the east coast and struggles with her image. Greta Gerwig’s intentions with her cinematographer Sam Levy was to make the movies “look and feel like a memory”. Together,” they collated images they were drawn to and reproduced them using a cheap photocopier, repeating the process several times, until the pictures were distressed and distanced from their originals” according to an article in NewsCaster. This was for the “the aesthetic of a memory”. To have a more nostalgic effect they used solely old camera lenses. Lady Bird is almost entirely composed of very short scenes most under a minute long.
Some are flashes, Lady Bird screaming in the street after her first kiss, brief glimpses of rehearsals for the school’s play, or the three-second and three-shot-long scene of Lady Bird’s cast removal with her mom.. These scenes create an image of what childhood is like in America, a realistic depiction of the blur with all the moments that are deemed the most significant.
Peppermint Soda has the same montage-like feel as it is composed of short shots that highlight school and childhood, but there is more of a focus on school and no solid conclusion to the film.
Education is shown differently in these two films, in Lady Bird there is less of an emphasis on highschool education, most scenes in this movie are not in school and those that are, are usually about school plays, and interactions between students. There is one scene however, in which the camera shows Lady Bird and her friend receiving tests grades handed to them by an off-screen teacher, LadyBirds reaction to a bad grade, shows disappointment but even that she is not accepting of her own academic ability and blames her mother for her being bad at math.
American children in films are less focused on school as they are involved in the highschool experience, this goes for many other american coming of age films, Clueless, Mean Girls, school is used as a plot device to move along the progression of the plot, using the academic year is a timeline for the development of adolescents.
In Peppermint Soda, scenes that are showed in school involve numerous close ups of writing on the board, teachers educating, writing, student work, this emphasizes how instilled the importance of school is in France, school is the students job and they have to take it seriously, in one scene the mother scolds her daughter for showing up late to school and getting punished with extra hours, this shows the strict nature of these school settings. In this scene Anne is being criticized for her painting of “Bambi”, and is visibly upset based on the camera direction and her sudden bolt out of the class. This atmosphere shows school to be a hostile environment, where above all things, going about your school day is deemed the most important and not performing well leads to punishment.
One of the most relatable experiences from being an adolescent for most people is discovering their first love, which can be met with heartbreak and disappointment or innocent love. In Greta Gerwig’s film the protagonist experiences her first relationship, this is displayed by a montage of awkward encounters as she explores her new feelings, parading around a field and laughing as they touch each others faces. This is different than the long distant relationship depicted in Peppermint Soda where the oldest daughter Frédérique receives letters from her boyfriend regularly. This is discovered by the mother who makes her rip them up and discard them saying they were too inappropriate.
In France, adolescents are not encouraged to explore their sexuality and it shows they have very little knowledge when it comes to those aspects in life. In this scene a young girls misinformation leads her to believe that “sleeping with a boy” means to lay down and go to sleep next to the other.
Another girl gets confused as to what gentialia is, these places come from ignorance, showing a lack of informative classes on sexuality being taught at school and no promotion of exploration. In another scene a student is being criticized for wearing makeup and nail polish to school, things that are deemed to be “sexual” and used for “attracting attention” a school teacher takes a washcloths and proceeds to wash her makeup and nail color off. This shows that while French culture allows their youth to mature faster, they also repress them from being promiscuous.
In Lady Bird however, exploring their sexuality is not discoaurged, in one scene a teacher is reading a novel and says the girls will love it and make them “swoon” in another scene Lady Bird’s mother jokes with her husband about her children’s sex life and tells her daughter to use protection. In American culture, adolscents are encoaurged to explore those intrests by themselves, some schools however do not teach sex education but educational resources are made available.
Another difference between youth culture are the formalities between people, in France they kiss each other on the cheeks when they meet, this is shown at the beginning of Peppermint Soda when the girls go to the first day
of school for the year and exchange greetings. In America, people are less intimate with each other as acquaintances and greet each other with handshakes.
There are also many differences in family values and relationships between these two films. In Peppermint Soda the bond between family is very close and dependable. In one scene the two sisters are sitting in a room together and just the mise-en-scene allows the audience to see how close they are. The warm lighting, and close quarters shows how friendly the family is, they sit together and exchange a couple words without looking at each other, without the visual display of closeness these exchanges would seem more cold.
In another scene, the sisters are bathing together, there are few boundaries and this shows how close family is in France. In Lady Bird, family is more distant, in exchanges between Lady Bird and her mom there is a certain tension in the scenes, the spacing between them is a visible boundary and the color scheme is cool. Lady Bird in one scene goes into her brothers room to use the computer, it is seperated by closeups of their face showing a lack of a connection, she is also seen yelling at him. These are some of the only interactions between them and it shows a lack of familial values.
There are many similarities between the actions of the young women in this film that are universal experiences for all young adolescents. Acts of trying to fit in and join different friend groups are a common theme in coming of age films. These two scenes can run parallel as both Lady Bird and Frédérique assert themselves into different crowds of people. Both directors do an excellent job of orchestrating an accurate depiction of what it feels like to be the odd one out, and lying to fit within others.
The similarities don’t stop there, Anne is seeing shoplifting a bottle from a store while walking around the city. This act is not for survival, it is done out of the rebellious nature of being young and desiring risk and freedom. Lady Bird does the same when she is in the supermarket and wants a magazine that her mom won’t pay for, she stuffs it in her shirt and walks away. These actions are not done with malice, they are young and want to experience life, however in Lady Bird’s case this is infantile. Opposed to the 12 year old stealing she is 18, and this is another example of the repressed maturity in American teens.
However many differences and similarities that are in these films, they both do an amazing job at creating a nostalgic effect that orchestarts an emotional response in the audience, from the small moments to the big life alternating choices characters make.