Ginger & Rosa (2012) Review

Unfortunately, I’m too old to enjoy Ginger & Rosa. That is not to say that it is a poor film, but rather that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fourteen-year-old girl.*

The main events take place around the Cuban Missile Crisis and two young girls born on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I have not lived through the Kennedy administration nor have I dropped any bombs, but why these events do not preclude my understanding of the film and my gender, my age, does, is because Ginger & Rosa is shown from the perspective of young Ginger. And it is a most earnest perspective.

The setting is a potent symbol for the radical changes that will divide the two girls. At the bleakest chapter of the Cold War, raised by parents who lived under London’s bombings, Rosa is keen to find the true love her mother lacks and Ginger wants to prevent nuclear holocaust. Her father was imprisoned for his pacifism in WW2 and so it is no surprise that Ginger is a “born activist.” Yet it is the cracking relationship between her mother and father that is a greater impetus for her passion to save the world. For Rosa, a different path, one of cigarette smoke and romance. With the conviction of the rebel, she chooses to romance Ginger’s father.

The girls’ faith that they can understand each other is lost gradually, and where that childhood friendship ruptures, womanhood begins.

Written and directed by Sally Potter, Ginger & Rosa is of course a coming of age story, rooted by good performances and an especially tearful Elle Fanning. What it also has in abundance is close-ups. Lots of close-ups, tight shots on Ginger and her father, tight shots on Rosa and Ginger’s father, tight shots on Ginger’s godfather, tight shots on her mother, tight shots of snow in her hand, tight shots of a Wurlitzer. I’m not sure if the effect is meant to better match what Ginger sees but it makes an already dour and earnest film a cramped and cold production.

Ginger & Rosa aims for the heart of a very young woman and its impact no doubt is greater within that audience. Ginger, an aspiring poet, is not supposed to be a good poet. Her poetry is earnest, written in a dour time, with the nuclear threat greater than it will ever be and her father and her best friend blowing up everyone’s notion of decency. How Ginger and Rosa speak to each other is not maudlin, for they are young people discovering themselves – they do not want the world to end, they do want to be happy.

“Can you not be a girl for a little while longer?” Ginger’s godfather asks, and indeed she cannot. The world is too dour and she is too earnest to ignore it. Inside, anyway. Ginger spends a good deal of the film silently crying. When her heart can take no more, it bursts like an explosion.

How well you relate to Ginger & Rosa may depend on your gender and age. Though it does contain a brief scene of Christina Hendricks playing accordion by a fireplace and I’ve yet to meet a man or woman who can say pooh-pooh to that lovesome tableau.

Ginger & Rosa (2012)
Directed by Sally Potter
Artificial Eye, UK; A24, US
90 Minutes

*I’m not entirely clear on how old Ginger or Rosa are supposed to be. In reality Elle Fanning, Ginger’s actress, is fourteen and Alice Englert, Rosa, is eighteen. If the girls were born in 1945 then they would be 17 in ’62, but their behavior in the film suggests they are younger. Who knows? As they say, if you can remember the ‘60s you weren’t there.

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