Review: Ginger & Rosa

(Sally Potter, 2012)
(Originally posted at Take One)

Perhaps her most accessible and deeply personal film to date, Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa is a star studded, character-led drama that eschews an all out depiction of mounting nuclear armament and the devastation it causes in favour of a more introspective and emotionally charged adolescent drama.

Set in the sixties, the film follows the titular Ginger (Elle Fanning, donning an impressive British accent) and Rosa (the alluring newcomer Alice Englert), best friends since their birth on the day of the H-Bomb launch on Hiroshima, which irrevocably shook the world. Plutonic soul mates, the pair spend their days in bathwater- shrunk jeans, listening to Sydney Bechet and hitchhiking around London, theorising life and pondering their joint futures as budding intellectual voyagers in a world full of culture, poetry and jazz.

As the threat of nuclear war looms large, the two start re-examining their teenage existentialism and begin to channel their burgeoning adulthoods into increasingly dissimilar directions. Becoming all too aware of her eye-catching good looks, Rosa goes about exploring her sexual dexterity by catching the eye of Ginger’s left-leaning bohemian father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), who is, in turn, growing further away from Ginger’s mother Natalie (played by Mad Men star Christina Hendricks, who like Fanning spouts a plucky British twang). The mature and poetic Ginger, on the other hand, becomes progressively weary and anxious about nuclear attack, and looks to a ragtag group of family friends (played by Timothy Spall, Annette Bening and Oliver Platt) to augment her worries and turn them into a desire to campaign against a possibly approaching cold war.

Sometimes as precocious, gloomy and navel gazing as its prudent, and incredibly acted, protagonists, Potter’s seventh feature is a loaded time bomb of angst and confusion, an allegory for the destructive nature of warfare and annihilation that plays out as a jazzily assembled and fluidly morose meditation on burgeoning maturity. Helped along by cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s candelabra-tinted cinematography and a finely picked soundtrack, Potter juggles her able and impressively collated actors with languid aplomb, eking out sturdy performances within a perfectly and minimally composed era-snapshot of sixties’ London and all its amiable kitchen sink foibles.

Lacing idealism through the possibilities of impending world collapse, Potter’s decision to use the unease of the Cuban Missile Crisis as a metaphor for the frantic disillusionment these girls – and particularly Ginger – face is an interesting alternative to depicting the overarching issues on display. Though the miniscule (but not entirely unwelcome) 89-minute runtime provides less of an opportunity for Potter’s screenplay to fully etch the frenzied magnitude of her character’s troubles and mould them into an entirely satisfying whole, Ginger & Rosa is a frequently impressive and emotionally involving ditty that meets a grandiose unease with reflective disquiet, to handsome effect.

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