MINT TEA (Pierre Kafian, 1961)

The setting is a Parisian café at lunch time in the midst of the Cold War and towards the end of the Algerian War that would trounce French colonial power. A civil defense siren sounds, and through the café’s expansive glass we see a flock of people hurriedly responding to the warning or drill. In English on the radio, a commentator speaks of U.S. homeowner shelters and the “possibility of shooting your neighbor if he tries to get in [your shelter].”
     The film contains no other English. The cosmopolitan nature of Paris is certified by the range of languages we hear spoken in the packed café. A young man sits by himself at a small round table, but others are seated in sociable pairs and groups. A dedicated observer, the young man notes an elderly man who enters the café alone—himself, he may think, years hence. Soon, though, the old man is joined by a younger one who shows him books. Clearly this is an arranged meeting, not a chance encounter, and the old man is either a buyer or seller of books. Later, he leaves by himself, and the young loner remains absorbed by the projective self-image; but a stylistic rupture of the subjective camera—a very high shot of the old man outdoors—implies that he, unlike the younger one, has somewhere else to go, that is, a life outside the café.
     Pierre Kafian’s Le thé a la menthe is full of surprises. An apparent bachelor eyeing the ladies is abruptly joined by his young daughter and her mother; a seemingly alone young woman, one of the anonymous crowd, leaves with Zbigniew Cybulski, possibly playing himself. Kafian’s brilliant short film looks ahead to Chantal Äkerman’s Toute une nuit (1982) and Jon Jost’s Oui non (2002).

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