Often considered Sally Potter’s most accessible film, primarily because it adheres to a more conventional structure than her earlier work (such as 2004’s Yes ), Ginger & Rosa (2012) depicts the adolescent challenges faced by two teenage girls through the prism of the social changes taking place in Britain in the early 1960s.
Terrific acting by the whole cast, and deeply intelligent scriptwriting and direction by Potter, instil the movie with the sense of real life. Ginger & Rosa reminds us that cinema need not be banal to be entertaining, and reaffirms the medium’s power to delve into emotionally rich and deep territory without becoming ponderous or overly introspective. In short, it’s a mini-masterpiece.
Set at a time when Britain was on the cusp of the social and sexual revolutions, the film focuses on the friendship of a pair of working-class girls, Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert). The two start off close but ructions occur when Rosa takes an interest in Ginger’s moody, existentialist father.
As the teenagers come into conflict, Ginger loses herself in the rhetoric of the nascent Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) movement while Rosa envelops herself in romance. The girls quickly learn that life is brutal on both the micro and macro level, and can only be leavened by human kindness and compassion – and that even those qualities might not be enough to salve the deep wounds of experience.
Potter says that the film, like all her work, began with semi-autobiographical elements, and notes that she was on the ban-the-bomb marches, so knows the time she is depicting well. But she adds that Ginger & Rosa took on a life of its own and became a work of fiction as soon as her imagination took hold.
There are many close-ups in the film. Potter says she wanted to express the inner lives of her characters through their facial expressions, rather than explanatory dialogue, and this makes the movie truly cinematic. The director also notes that, as she was shooting the London of the 60s in the modern city on a low budget, wider angle shots were generally ruled out because there was little in the pot for set design.
Potter presents the film as a personal story, but its power hinges on a deeply intellectual theme. The subtext shows that philosophical systems, whether political or personal, like existentialism, lead to disaster when dogmatically applied to our lives.
Ginger & Rosa will be screened on December 11 at Broadway Cinematheque, in Yau Ma Tei, as part of the BC Sunday programme.