Considering the age of its young leading ladies and its PG-13 rating, Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa is a surprisingly dark drama. Set in the Cold War uncertainty of early ‘60s London, the film artfully traces the titular teen duo (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert, respectively) as they move from inseparable to something far more complex. Featuring crushing, honest drama from an impressive cast, its maturity may be striking, but is that much more powerful for adopting such a focus.
As with a film like Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, an external crisis coincides and proves on par with an internal one. In the case of Ginger & Rosa, it’s the Cuban Missile Crisis, a threat of global disaster that sends Ginger’s psyche into disarray. Convinced the world is on the brink of destruction, she deflects her studies in favor of anti-nuclear activism and carefree late night wanderings with Rosa, who often pals off with a lusty lad while Ginger reads or scribbles in her poetry journal.
Likewise molding her mindset are the adults in her life, ranging from the inspiration of her intellectual godfathers Mark (Timothy Spall) and Mark Two (Oliver Platt) and their activist American friend Bella (Annette Bening) to Ginger’s downtrodden mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks), whose unhappiness she pointedly rebels against. Stuck between childhood and adulthood, Ginger puts on a brave face and acts tough, but beneath the facade is a vulnerability that defines her and, in time, comes to define the film.
Key to this volatility and the ill-suited rock in her life is Ginger’s pacifist father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a man so dedicated to his political and philosophical beliefs that he’s incapable of comprehending the damage he inflicts on those around him. Not one to honor marriage, fatherhood, or other social tenets that he finds constricting, it’s thus in the shocking lengths to which Roland goes and the deeds’ impact on an already fragile Ginger that the film achieves its greatest emotional resonance.
Nivola handles his decisions with a sociopath’s disconnect, yet it’s his self-described damaged soul and constant quest for artistic beauty that motivates him and, tragically, attracts Rosa. Left to sort through the rubble on her own, the fallout of such actions echo throughout Fanning’s shattered demeanor and seep out just as authentically through her tortured voice. The fifteen-year-old has previously shown talent beyond her years in Somewhere and Super 8, but in confidently tearing into new ground with the aid of a fitting British accent, she turns in her finest performance to date.
Subject matter this gloomy isn’t exactly a pleasure, but in capturing a terrifying time in both world and personal history, Ginger & Rosa is a cathartic success. Occurring around the corner from the folks of An Education with a topicality not all that different, Potter’s film proves another enticing look at a bygone era.
Rated PG-13 for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language.
Ginger & Rosa is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.