Ginger and Rosa (2012)
Starring Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, Annette Bening, Jodhi May, and introducing Alice Englert
Directed by Sally Potter
Ginger and Rosa, two names that evoke the colour red and its rage and romance , are the names of two fictional young women in 1960’s London (played by Fanning and Englert, respectively). Nuclear bombs aside, the film boasts the happiest, most bittersweet first ten minutes of recent theatrical releases. We, the audience, can’t help but get suckered in while watching the two play, making a working class, rubble-laden, paint-chipped London their playground as if they are still children. The two young, bright leads delicately transition between purity and the separate explorations that they will take. And Potter’s direction in these scenes is commendably painterly, this quality clearer here than in her earlier, more prosaic efforts in Thriller and Orlando. This kind of pacing and storytelling may not always be able to sustain itself throughout the film but it can still highlight key emotional moments.
Ginger and Rosa is another depiction of that postwar era that English-speaking directors have captured for the past six years or so. But the word ‘another’ feels like a disservice against the film when it is not. Potter’s film adds layers to this wary, stumbling renaissance by leaving reminders of the bomb. That same bomb that Betty Draper talks about to her psychiatrist, speculating that the latter’s other patients are equally worried about it. The bomb – shown here in what I assume is in colourful yet grainy 8mm, obliterates a Japanese city. It’s the bomb that Ginger starts to read about in magazines, wondering whether those around her are equally agitated about these nuclear weapons. Her main influence is ‘her Roland’ (Nivola), a man who doesn’t want to be called her father because of its supposed bourgeois implications. Other influences include those played by Hendricks, Spall, Platt, and Bening, great character actors who imbue the people they play with complementary and essential shades of intelligent warmth. Most of Ginger’s support system are adults, brandishing the same paranoiac scars as the young. But Ginger does not see this common quality between the generations, in effect carrying the bomb on her shoulders because she believes that these adults refuse to do so.
The movie’s autobiographic feel makes me slightly hesitant to criticize this or any part of it, but I still must point out my issues, nitpicks though they may be. The protagonists represent the halves of the 1960’s – Ginger is the political half, Rosa the fashionably sexual. And while Ginger and her activism takes a more nuanced spotlight, Rosa and sex are sketches, left woefully underdeveloped. The movie’s depiction of sexuality is also problematic. It implies that Ginger accelerates her activism because of sexual frustration, burying her nose in her political magazines while on the other side of the wall, Rosa is making out with a strange man. It does not help that Ginger constantly sees Roland cheat on her mother (Hendricks), and that Roland and his new partner philosophically justify their adultery. Ginger’s knowledge of Roland’s affair builds to a climax in the devastating last half hour. But still, rationalization and sexual roaming are almost always dangerous combinations in characters. When handled carelessly they threaten to ruin any movie they are in, and I wish Potter saw a better way of dealing with her characters’ amorality.
Follow me on Twitter @paolocase