Wow. I promised myself that I wouldn’t write anything too spoilery in my TIFF musings, because I want anyone who reads one of these and then sees the movie I’ve written about to have as close to the same experience going into it as I did. It’s going to be difficult to convey how wonderful and amazing this film is without going into much detail – but I aim to try!
Ginger & Rosa follows the story of two teenaged girls in 1960’s London; their adolescent years being formed in an era shaped as much by love and faith as by protests, marches and the global threat of total nuclear annhilation. Ginger (Elle Fanning) is a budding poet and activist, fearing that every day could be her last as the world tries to feel its way out from under The Bomb. Rosa (Alice Englert), her best friend since birth, struggles more in her quest to find an everlasting love and to leave the fate of the world in God’s hands. Under the gentle, guiding hand of director Sally Potter, the girls soar headlong toward adulthood in the kind of lilting, musical rush that defies generational definition.
Intrinsically woven into the girls’ story are the adults who make up and shape their immediate world – most notably Ginger’s parents, Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and Roland (Alessandro Nivola). Both Ginger and Rosa are old enough to have been scarred by things that have happened in their lives, and to be constantly looking outside of themselves for validation of the women they are soon to become. Both are also, however, young enough to still require guidance and advice from those they consider to be role models; deciding now who they want to be in a few years, and who they don’t.
I don’t want to say much more about the actual story, because I really don’t want to give anything away, so from here, I would just like to talk about the performances, and about just how gorgeous the film looks. Potter has carefully and lovingly crafted a film that immerses the viewer immediately in a time and place that – in a way – is very different from the world as we know it now, but which is also increasingly familiar and close to home. The world may change on its surface as time marches on, but the people who inhabit it now aren’t necessarily that far removed from those who came before us. We are just as flawed, just as broken, just as scared, and just as beautiful, as the generations who’ve shaped us. The things that make us human don’t change very much at all.
Every character in this film is rich and full, and not a single note is missed by the actors playing them. Each one is complete and sincere in their beliefs and motivations, which makes them easy to love across the board – if not always easy to like. I’ve long been a fan of the stunningly gorgeous and incredibly talented Christina Hendricks, but even I wasn’t prepared for how much shattered soul she brought to Natalie every moment that she was on the screen. Watching her breathe life into her character was heartbreakingly beautiful, and I’m so honoured to have been able to bear witness to the astounding caliber of talent and genuine heart that everyone involved brought to the table on this film.
It was, however, young Elle Fanning who most captured my attention with this one. Kept in near-constant close-ups, Elle’s unflinching portrayal of Ginger is really what’s at the heart of this film for me. Her open smile and bright, soulful eyes make Ginger a character the viewer can readily like and root for, even as we’re forced to watch her stumble through the same mistakes and poor judgement we all went through at her age. One can’t help but want her to pull through somehow – if not actually try to help guide her to adulthood at some points – and it is with a similar sense of disappointment that we see the world around her through her eyes. Ms Fanning actually broke down a little during the post-premiere Q&A at the Elgin Theatre last night, as it was her first time seeing the film and she was feeling somewhat overwhelmed. It’s no wonder, really. Young Ginger almost becomes a human version of the bomb she fears so much, struggling to hold everything in as a way to protect everyone she loves from themselves, even as it all threatens to tear her apart inside. The catharsis she felt as an actress having portrayed everything we’d just seen on screen must surely have rivalled Ginger’s own path toward healing, as well.
It takes a brave soul to let the camera see that much, let alone to convey it to the thousands of faces in the dark watching everything unfold on the big screen before them, and that is exactly what Elle Fanning has done. She acts as a portal not only to the character of Ginger, but to everyone else in the film, as well, and to pull such a feat off so flawlessly and beautifully is no easy task. I can’t say enough about this young woman’s performance, and it could only have been some form of devine fate that brought her together with Sally Potter. Together, they have all created something truly special – a piece of work that is as much song as it is film, as much poetry as it is dance – a story that transcends time, space and generation to land squarely in the end where it began. In the heart.
Ginger & Rosa is screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday September 9th at 12:00pm and on Friday September 14th at 9:45pm. Also, follow the film on Facebook for more information as it becomes available!