Published On: April 23, 2013

Ginger & Rosa

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By B. Michael Rubin

British writer/director Sally Potter’s seventh feature film, Ginger & Rosa, came to Curitiba recently. Ms. Potter, although well-known in England and on the international film festival circuit, is not a familiar name in Brazil. Her independent films are amazingly different from each other, and some are not intended for wide audiences but rather the select few who appreciate offbeat work.

Ms. Potter’s earlier films include The Tango Lesson, an homage to the famous dance form. She wrote and directed a film in 2004 called Yes, that was performed entirely in iambic pentameter, the poetic form utilized by Shakespeare. She’s best known for the film Orlando from 1992, which is the most exciting film adaptation of any of the novels of Virginia Woolf, the famous British writer whose books are exceedingly difficult to translate to the screen.

Like the wide range of film subjects Sally Potter has tackled in her career, she is known for her wide-ranging talent. Not only does she write and direct her films, but she was trained as a dancer and took the lead role in The Tango Lesson. She is also a musician, having composed the music for Orlando.

In addition to her unusual range of film projects, Ms. Potter is famous for her ability to handle large, excellent casts of actors. Her previous films have included such actors as Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp, Steve Buscemi, Christina Ricci, Oscar-nominated Joan Allen, twice Oscar-nominated Jude Law, and Oscar-winner Judi Dench.

Writer/Director Sally Potter

In Ginger & Rosa, Ms. Potter has written her most conventional film, the story of a friendship between two teenage girls in 1960s England. We witness the inner struggles of Ginger (Elle Fanning) trying to understand a world where she’s become aware of the power of nuclear weapons to destroy all civilization. She looks to her closest friend Rosa  (Alice Englert) and her parents to offer solace for her fears. Unfortunately, those around her, especially her parents who are continually separating, offer little comfort, with the exception of her gay godfathers (the marvelous actors Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall). As the drama unfolds, Ginger reaches out desperately for comfort in a world of uncertainty but is continually disappointed in her parents and Rosa.

For those viewers who grew up in the 1960s or 70s, you will recognize the landmarks of the era, like the Wurlitzer Hi-Fi jukebox playing “Tutti-Fruity Oh Ruddy” or the huge peace sign poster Ginger has over her bed. She attends marches carrying signs for “Ban the Bomb” and there are quotes from Lord Bertrand Russell. The girls iron their long hair to make it straighter and are also not afraid to hitchhike.

Alessandro Nivolo

Both girls make a habit of skipping school but receive an education from Ginger’s father (Alessandro Nivolo), a pacifist writer who has been to prison for refusing to fight in World War II. He teaches his daughter to call him Roland rather than dad, and that “God is an invention”. He teaches Rosa that she’s the right age to welcome the sexual revolution sweeping through Europe at this time.

As in many of Ms. Potter’s previous films, the primary reason for seeing Ginger & Rosa is her choice of the leading actress, Elle Fanning as Ginger. With her character’s red hair inherited from her mother and sparkling blue eyes, Ms. Fanning, just 14 in this film, manages to play convincingly the role of a 17-year-old, no easy feat for any teen actress. It’s a tribute to Ms. Potter’s talent as a director that she chose Elle Fanning for the role and was able to elicit such a brilliant performance. There aren’t many 14-year-old actresses who can carry the weight of an entire movie. Ms. Fanning is the younger sister of Dakota Fanning, who until now has been more visible in Hollywood than her younger sister.

Elle Fanning, age 14

After seeing Ginger and Rosa, I suspect Elle will outshine her older sister in the years to come. Despite her tender age, a performer this confident doesn’t develop overnight. Elle Fanning has been acting since the age of 3, appearing in Deja Vu with Denzel Washington at age 8, Benjamin Button with Brad Pitt at age 7, and The Door in the Floor with Jeff Bridges at age 6.

Ginger’s parents are also a pair of accomplished actors, Americans Christina Hendricks (Mad Men TV series) and Alessandro Nivolo, who’s appeared in over 30 films including Coco Chanel, Junebug, and Laurel Canyon. And Annette Bening plays the role of an American feminist friend of the gay godfathers.

The movie ends in a dramatic scene where the ethical decisions of Ginger’s father are called into question and her mother’s fragility descends into a suicidal depression. It’s a telling glimpse into the way the cultural revolution of the 1960s changed people’s lives forever.

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in Ginger & Rosa

Ginger & Rosa
Writer/Director: Sally Potter
Cast: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Alessandra Nivolo, Christina Hendricks, Oliver Platt, Timothy Spall, Annette Bening

Playing at Shopping Estação VIP Room. Price: R$44/person. The reclining seats with footrests are deliciously comfortable in this newest movie viewing experience in Curitiba. However, movie fans should be advised that the film is shown without previews and due to the intimate seating, late arrivals are annoying.

Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.

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