GINGER & ROSA
Written and Directed by: Sally Potter
Starring: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Annette Bening, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, Jodhi May
Being a teenage girl is hard. Finding a film that can translate this precarious time fluently with heaploads of authenticity is even more difficult. However, writer-director Sally Potter (ORLANDO) has managed to do so quite effortlessly. The filmmaker has crafted a beautiful, complex, and sophisticated work of art.
Best friends Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) entered into the world in 1945 on the same day the nuclear bomb went off in Hiroshima. Disciplinarian Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and doormat Anoushka (Jodhi May) raised the girls side-by-side in London. While Rosa’s father bailed early on, Ginger’s pacifist professor father Roland (Alessandro Nivola) stuck around. However, now in 1962 he’s been stepping out on Natalie with his young female students. As teens ready to leave childhood whimsy behind, the girls are discovering the world – Rosa enjoys being sexual and Ginger is cultivating her political activism. Encouraging Ginger to remain a child is her mom’s conservative friend Mark (Timothy Spall), though his partner Mark Two (an effervescent Oliver Platt) and Mark Two’s poetess pal Bella (Annette Bening) support her militant streak. When news spreads of an impending nuclear bomb threat and her parents separate, Ginger’s world turns upside down. The chemical burn of unhappiness deepens when Rosa confides to her that she’s pursing a relationship with Roland. Cue nuclear explosion stinger!
Confinement is an important theme here. Potter shoots much of the film in close-ups, which adds to the intensity of the scenes and the raw, subtly nuanced work of the actors – specifically Fanning, whose character is torn between family and friendship. The character of Roland, having been physically imprisoned for being a conscientious objector, finds himself trapped in an emotional prison (his marriage) he can’t escape. It’s best showcased during the narrative’s explosive climax, when the characters are breaking down their carefully built emotional walls. Potter stages the scene perfectly, with Natalie in the foreground and Roland on the stairs with railing slats representing prison bars. Carlos Conti’s production design also brilliantly echoes the characters’ emotional states. Plus Jazz and Blues standards reverberate throughout the picture augmenting the narrative.
Ginger uses the macro (the threat of the entire world coming to an end) to explain the micro (her world, as she knows it, coming to an end) as a way to emotionally distance herself from her personal problem. Disguising her true feelings, Ginger is breaking down and her push-pull is evident. She’s struggling to hold onto the last vestiges of childhood while being propelled the opposite way into adulthood upon discovery of a secret – one that burdens her for too long. The betrayal by her bestie and her father is heartbreaking, as is her mom’s struggle to do right by her.
There’s a lot going on even in the silent recesses of the picture. Silence can be more even more powerful and poignant than words. Robbie Ryan’s handheld camerawork delicately explores the things left unsaid on the emotional canvas of the actors’ faces. And the restrained color pallete makes those emotions stand out even more. For fans of the orange and blue color theory, there’s a scene between Roland and Ginger in his apartment that will have you cooing in delight. The clash between warm and cool complements the clash between father and daughter.
While the entire ensemble turns in astounding work here, it’s Potter’s direction that makes this piece feel immediate and haunting. It will reverberate long after the credits roll. Deeply affecting, this is independent cinema at its finest.
4.5 out of 5
GINGER & ROSA plays AFI Fest on November 7 and 8. It opens theatrically in 2013.