The fracturing friendship between two 16-year-old girls creatively embodies arguments about feminism, radical politics and nuclear threat in early 1960s London.
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23 Jul 2015 - 5:46 PM  UPDATED 30 Jul 2015 - 11:48 AM

Sally Potter wrote and directed

British artist, composer and filmmaker Sally Potter pushes boundaries and explores ideas in lush and interesting ways – whether she’s making a film about a gender-bending time-traveller (Orlando, 1992), depicting a bi-racial romance with dialogue in iambic pentameter (Yes, 2004) or acting in front of her own camera (The Tango Lesson, 1997). Some say Ginger & Rosa (2012) is Potter’s most accessible (and therefore least ambitious) film, but this seemingly simple story about the fracturing friendship between a pair of 16-year-old girls in early 1960s London still manages to creatively embody arguments about feminism, radical politics and nuclear threat. 

So many wonderful women

Elle Fanning is radiant as the redheaded Ginger. Just 13 at the time of filming, Fanning showed stunning maturity and vulnerability in her first leading role, playing an older girl who writes poetry and lies awake worrying about the annihilation of the human race in the lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. When she’s not absorbed in serious contemplation, Ginger is also a playful rebel, alongside her best friend, the more sexually adventurous Rosa (a dark and defiant Alice Englert). Together they giggle and dance, ironing their hair, shrinking their jeans in the bath, hitchhiking and attending peace rallies – until it all falls apart when Rosa falls in love with Ginger’s free-thinking dad (Alessandro Nivola). There are other fascinating women in this film too: Christina Hendricks (best known as Mad Men’s office siren Joan) plays Ginger’s dissatisfied mother, a one-time painter who gave up her career when she got pregnant; and Annette Bening in a small but important role as a liberated American poet with a no-nonsense manner. It’s no wonder that these female actors won a Women’s Work/Best Ensemble award at the 2013 Women Film Critics Circle Awards in 2013.

A pair of fabulous fairy godfathers

Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt play a gay couple, both named ‘Mark’, who function as Ginger’s wise godfathers. They’ve known her since she was a baby and give her smart advice when she’s struggling with her mother’s small-mindedness. These are small roles, but perfectly pitched, and funny too.

Expressionistic cinematography

The giddy highs and the sulky lows of teen mood swings are artfully depicted by acclaimed UK cinematographer Robbie Ryan (best known for his work on Andrea Arnold’s films Red Road, Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights).  A subjective camera judders and swoons with freeze frames and jump cuts that are slightly unsettling but never alienating. The whole thing is just beautiful to look at, replete with ravishing close-ups and a nostalgic colour palette of russet reds and forest greens that changes along with the lead character’s emotional turmoil.

A sultry jazz soundtrack

Gershwin, Ellington and Thelonious Monk – they’re all here on this wonderful soundtrack, along with familiar classics like Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ and Miles Davis’s ‘Blue in Green’. Instead of feeling like a cheap and overused shortcut to the time period, these well-known standards work perfectly with Ginger & Rosa’s knowing nostalgia.

Watch the full Ginger And Rosa at SBS On Demand