24. Ginger & Rosa, directed by
Sally Potter

24. Ginger & Rosa, directed by
Sally Potter

Before There Were “Frenemies”, There Was Ginger & Rosa


Female friendships by any standards involve a fascinating dynamic, so when the Cold War plus one very uncomfortable betrayal is added to the mix, psychological mayhem ensues. But the jazzy music and distinctive lighting, also, make for a stylistic ride.

United from the moment of their births (on the same day, no less), the film follows the childhood friends Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) as the Cold War swirls around them. Radios trumpet the terrible news about the Global Missile Crisis, and grim news about the state of the world, as the girls channel this bleakness into a free abandonment. Together they hitchhike and drink, getting up to no good, indulging in a level of escapism while they can.

They are inseparably close, each offering the other comfort, influence and a much-needed confidante. The girls are the same and also opposites, which during the first quarter of the film creates striking imagery as they bundle themselves together and fling themselves apart, echoing their devoted connection despite psychological differences, which hints at a permanent extrication. Both have long and tangled hair, one with brown and one with red and, at first, the girls wear matching clothes. But one must always be more of a leader and one more of a follower, and ultimately, one becomes more obsessed with life while the other more with love. Or perhaps, desire.

Rose and Ginger, on the road again. (BBC Films)

You see, both are admirers of Ginger’s father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola). He is a profuse writer of idealistic spin and a conscientious objector who endured a stint in prison. But the truth is that he isn’t a great father to Ginger, and he distances himself by placing himself on a high and mighty pedestal. Young and impressionable, both the girls are attracted to his magnetic force, and it isn’t long before Rosa pursues him.

It’s an unforgivable betrayal, particularly given the girls’ closeness and the fact that Ginger’s parents are still married. The new romance drives a wedge between the old friends, and competing for Roland’s love soon becomes the defining factor of the girl’s interactions. Their friendship has been torn in such a way that seems irreparable, only worsening with each new meeting.

The film has a real moody quality to it, established chiefly through the consistently atmospheric lighting. There’s a real dimness at times, with images bathed in shadows, much like the shadow of The Bomb looming over their daily lives. This distinct light and shade is very evocative, leaving a lasting impression on the viewer. One striking moment is when Ginger is lurking alone in a sudden, complete darkness, plunging us into her isolation and despair.

Director Sally Potter on the set of Ginger & Rosa. (BBC Films)

Constructing the ideological atmosphere of the era, largely through dialogue, reveals both the constraint and reckless potential that informs every character and action. At times, this detailing of the context can be rather explicitly portrayed through the text, pushing incessantly at the prevailing anxieties of nuclear holocaust. Indeed, the best moments of this film are those that are unspoken: the looks and silences between characters, the unsaid thoughts and building subtexts, and the moments of character isolation. The breakdown in proper communication between the trio is fabulously captured via relational shots, like Ginger’s resentment hardening in her eyes as she silently watches the flirting interaction between Roland and Rosa.

But the Cold War acts as one giant cloak over Ginger’s real mental preoccupation: the calamity that Rosa and Rowland are now romantically involved. When she says that the world may blow up, she really means that her world is blowing up. The film builds to an emotional climax, brought home by the bravely vulnerable Elle Fanning. Stylishly directed, with interesting performances, Ginger & Rosa manages to pack a punch while suggesting that optimism and forgiveness are tools with which to embrace the future, even when bogged down by the wretchedness of the present.

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