Sally Potter’s mediation on adolescent female life is powerful, verging on gut wrenching at times, with its universal contradictions of desperately wanting to grow up against the fear of it.
Two East End London girls Ginger and Rosa (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert) find solace with each other, buffers from their problems – school, parents, rebellion and hormonal emotion set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is palpable fear that life on earth could end.
It must have been tough as a young girl then. London was still bruised from World War Two, the economy was down the drain and hopelessness pervaded urban life. Money was scarce in Ginger’s household, and simmering negative emotions mix with cigarette smoke and the resentments of her mother and father (Christina Hendricks and Alessandro Nivola) two deeply unhappy and disappointed people.
For Ginger and Rosa, having each other is an oasis in the desert. They share thoughts and feelings and weigh their experiences while enjoying the comforts of non-judgmental love and acceptance. They share their frustrations with life and anxieties about the Cold War. They’re inseparable, and go down the road clinging to each other.
Their rebellious exploration of the world as young political idealists who fix each other’s hair, discuss everything in their young words and march in Ban the Bomb protests is soon shattered when Rose betrays Ginger. Her willful dismissal of Gingers shock marks an emotional nadir.
Elle fanning is breathtaking as Ginger. Just 13 when she made the film her performance is raw, naked, consistent and utterly beautiful. Fanning is preternaturally evocative and seems to have created a miraculously real girl of the time and place. Tight close-ups read every inch of her expressive eyes and face. What a great acting choice she made, partnering with Potter in the stark yet rich role of Ginger.
The remarkable cast includes Annette Bening, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt as adult characters the girls turn to for the perspective and nurturing not available at home. What they provide isn’t enough but it’s something. With them, color enters the girls’ lives.
Potter’s “kitchen sink” drama is far removed from the lush radical extravagance of her earlier works like Orlando. The depth of detail and sensually enveloping textures colors and design is wiped away, given over to the blue grey minimalism and the cold alienation and unrelenting tension those colors suggest. There is little comfort in this world.
Despite the intense emotions, Ginger and Rosa is best described as an intellectual piece about the way young minds seek, explore and grow. They are locked in a certain place and time, but are universal. Being young is tough in the best circumstances, and in this particular world of Potter’s youth, is personal. This is a hymn to the bravery of young girls everywhere.
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Written and directed by Sally Potter
Opens: March 15th
Runtime: 90 minutes