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GINGER AND ROSA (director/writer: Sally Potter; cinematographer: Robbie Ryan; editor: Anders Refn; music: jazz tracks; cast: Elle Fanning (Ginger), Alice Englert (Rosa), Alessandro Nivola (Roland), Christina Hendricks (Natalie), Timothy Spall (Mark), Oliver Platt (Mark), Jodhi May (Anoushka), Annette Bening (Bella), Andrew Hawley (Tony). Luke Cloud (Rosa’s dad); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Christopher Sheppard /Andrew Litvin; A24; 2012-UK)
“Assured but bleak art-house girl’s coming-of-age film that combines politics and personal matters.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sally Potter (“Orlando”/”The Gold Diggers”/”The Tango Lesson”) is the auteur of this assured but bleak art-house girl’s coming-of-age film that combines politics and personal matters, as the story revolves around the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962 that threatens a nuclear war and social upheaval for a London family over an embittered separation. It’s a personal film that tells of the close relationship between London-born girls Ginger (Elle Fanning, an American and only 13 at the time of the performance) and Rosa (Alice Englert, the Australian daughter of Jane Campion), born on the same day and in the same hospital in 1945 when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and who remain close friends through their childhood. The film follows the rebellious girls in 1962 when they are 17 and inseparable, and trying to find their place in the world.

The pic is always trying to say something important, but what seems to emerge is mostly ponderous mush about the pros and cons of devoting one’s life to a just cause while trying to find one’s true identity. If the film is to be appreciated, it’s for the mature performance of Fanning as the redheaded teenager with the world on her shoulders.

The gifted teenager Ginger, poetically inclined, is searching for independence from her parents. The giggly Ginger resides with her unhappy housewife mom Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and her articulate unconventional pacifist professor/writer dad Roland (Alessandro Nivola), who was imprisoned during WW II as a conscientious objector. She’s inseparable from the more ordinary Rosa, a poor student, whose father (Luke Cloud) abandoned the family and her harried mom (Jodhi May)is a cleaning woman she is contemptuous of. They experiment in smoking cigarettes, ironing each other’s long hair, shrinking their blue jeans while sitting together in the tub and become activists in a ‘ban the bomb group’ who follow the ideals of Bertrand Russell.

Things get more dramatic when the under-aged Rosa seduces Ginger’s father, who already split from his nagging wife to live out his romantic image of himself as a free-spirited bohemian philosopher. Rosa’s act puts a dent in their friendship, and Ginger compensates for this loss of a friend by putting all her energy into being a willing activist for the Youth Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, where her passion for the cause brings about the possible romance with the group’s hippie-looking leader (Andrew Hawley).

Potter’s most profound observation seems to be that since the girl protagonists were born at a time when nuclear weapons threaten the world, that is their underlying psychology for the way they react to the world. When Ginger is adrift without support from her former best friend and her separated family, she receives kind counsel from her avuncular gay godfathers Mark (Timothy Spall) and Mark (Oliver Platt), friends of her family, and more biting role model advice from her godfather’s radical feminist American friend Bella (Annette Bening).

The pic loses the way when it loses track of the girl’s friendship and tries to give a universal political view of growing up in 1962 by saying all politics is personal and that idealists become hypocrites when trying to live up to their beliefs in their personal lives. Potter’s generalized slogan message only registered somewhat with me as more one of nostalgia than heft and one that isn’t exactly true.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”