Ginger & Rosa (2013)
Written & Directed by Sally Potter
It’s London 1962, and the world is feeling the effects of fear surrounding the Cold War. The most significant worry is that nuclear weapons will bring about the end of humanity. Feeling these fears is Ginger, a 17-year-old girl who is just beginning to figure out who she is and doesn’t want the world to end. She sits between her mother, Nat, who wants her daughter to become more responsible and live conventionally and her father, Roland, a free-spirited intellectual who encourages Ginger to rebel and skip school. In addition to these two influences, Ginger has her lifelong best friend, Rosa. While Ginger has succeeded in academics, Rosa has fallen behind and is making drastically different choices in life. Ginger feels pulled to that side of life but is also caught up in the movement to ban the bomb. Eventually Ginger will discover a dark secret about Rosa that threatens to upend the young woman’s life.
Ginger & Rosa is a very sparse film, and I would argue that the sum of its parts is not altogether enough to make something of. The climax of the film just sort of ends the story without resolving it or leaving any interesting ambiguity to ponder. There just isn’t much meat on the bones here and that can make for some frustratingly meandering story. However, there are some bright notes.
The cinematography is beautiful. The gray-brown colors of London are perfectly conveyed. The choice to go handheld for much of the film helps translate the bursts of energy and unsteadiness of teenage life. The camera struggles to keep up with Ginger & Rosa as they burst across the pebbled shore. In quieter moments, it floats dreamlike as Ginger loses herself in writing poems. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the person behind the camera is Robbie Ryan who also shot Fish Tank, another beautiful British coming of age story about a teenage girl.
It’s no surprise that much of Ginger’s life (save the larger dramatic components) are based around director Sally Potter’s upbringing. In an interview, Potter explains how she was raised in an atheist/anarchist household where she was given much autonomy at an early age. The influence of a bohemian intellectual upbringing feels very genuine throughout the picture. This is my second Potter film, the first being her adaptation of Orlando (1992). That was a monumentally different type of film, more magic-realist than what is presented in Ginger & Rosa.
The standout performance is without a doubt Elle Fanning as Ginger. Fanning was only 14 years old when the movie was made and is remarkable at such a young age. She is given the task of showing the slow burn and realization of Rosa’s secret over a period of weeks. Finally, in the film’s climax, she has to perform a believable outburst that doesn’t become over the top and nails it. If you have ever seen or been a teenager who is trying to hold in deeply felt emotions and pain, then you will see a great deal of depth and honest in Fanning performance.
Regarding this film’s place in A24’s catalog, it was not made in any way by the company, not in the same way they helped with production of Charles Swan. Instead, they merely purchased the U.S. distribution rights after its festival run. What it did do in that first year of A24’s existence was the continue to build the reputation as a company that sought out creator-focused work. The next film they would release would also fall into the creator-driven film category and be their first picture to garner large attention from the press.