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Ginger & Rosa by Sally Potter

September 25, 2013

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The short opening titles are accompanied by a puzzling sound whose origin becomes clear to us only when we see the first images of the movie: a newsreel of Hiroshima’s bombing, then we suddenly move to 1945 London where two women are giving birth to Ginger and Rosa, my immediate reaction was, well, this will be a film about growing up at the time of the cold war and a medley of the personal and the political sphere, it was an easy guess, nonetheless Sally Potter‘s film amounts to much more than that. A new time jump and we are in October 1962, goodbye Hiroshima and welcome to the Cuban Missile Crisis; at the peak of the Cold War Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) are seventeen of course and their lifetime friendship is guiding them together through the discovery of the adult world: smoking, sex, escapades and political activism are cooked by Potter with a pinch of French New Wave. Ginger and Rosa may be best friends but very different family backgrounds have made them very different girls: Rosa lives with her mother and during a conversation about the girls we hear that Rosa is a ¨bad influence¨ and ¨disturbed¨ – vice versa Ginger has grown up in an artistic and ideological milieu, her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) is a painter and her father Roland (Alessandro Nivola) is a libertarian intellectual, two gay godfathers complete the picture of Ginger’s modern family.

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Movies about adolescence are quite common but I have never seen the (narrative and cinematic) potential of the teenage years so fully developed as it is in Ginger & Rosa, the agony of becoming an adult has rarely been portrayed with such honesty and power, the issues at stake – life, death, love, betrayal, religion, atheism, friendship, freedom – involve and destabilize everyone in the picture, teens and adults alike. Potter’s screenplay articulates the film in three sections: New Wave style introduction of the girls, central melodrama, devastating final confrontation entailing every character in the film. News heard from the radio punctuates the escalation of the story: the political and the personal one, though in the end we realize that the real bomb is the human one – adolescence as a nuclear bomb – nonetheless Sally Potter has managed to create an excellent period film, the look and feel of the 60s – and the social turmoil to come – are vividly represented (the rally of the activists is one of many excellent scenes). The whole cast does a wonderful job but the two girls deserve a special mention and while Elle Fanning confirms her status as a major talent, the debut of Alice Englert (for the record, she is the daughter of Jane Campion) is one worth to remember.

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