Thursday, March 14, 2013

GINGER & ROSA: Sally Potter's back with a moving, charming and quite accessible film

Sally Potter, the British artist who has given us a number of most interesting movies, is back this year with one of her most accessible films. Prior to this one, with the half-dozen I've seen, there has always been surprise, mystery (not so much in what-happens-next as in buried mean-ings), style to spare (though never in the same manner: compare, for instance, Orlando to Rage) and a keen interest in the place of women in society. This is just a start regarding what this filmmaker offers. The oddest thing about her new film GINGER & ROSA, however, is that what you see is precisely what you get.

The above is in no way to be taken as a pan, for what you see and get is a tasty tale, humorous and compelling, of two young British girls -- friends from almost birth -- and their growing up as they take in the vicissitudes of life, love, politics, friendship and family. Ms Potter, shown at right, to my mind is as stylish as ever, but, as usual, she makes that style fit its subject, place and time period. But it is odd, I grant you, seeing her work in what one might almost call a British mainstream mode. Which she handles quite well, I might add. The time/place is London in what we used to call the swinging 60s (but what here looks like doing it on rather rusty swings) in which our two heroines, the  title characters, are living through everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis to family upheaval.

Ginger, the girl we grow closest to, is played by Elle Fanning (above, center left), and extremely well. Her friend Rosa is limned by Alice Englert, (above center right, and recently seen in Beautiful Creatures).

We spend quite a bit more time with Ginger, her problems and interests, as well as with her family -- dad, a fine Alessandro Nivola (above, left) and mom, a surprising Christina Hendricks, (above, center and sporting a pretty good British accent) -- than we do with that of Rosa's (mom is played by Jodhi May, dad is long gone). This pushes the film squarely onto the shoulders of Ms Fanning, who bears the weight effortlessly, as though it were second nature.

Also in the mix are a pair of godfathers and their friend (above), brought to wonderful life by Oliver Platt (left), Timothy Spall (right) and Annette Bening (center). As both writer and director, Potter has created her story, one imagines, from scratch, rather than having adapted it from someone else's novel. The tale lasts only 90 minutes, and yet all the events that happen and the subjects and themes covered would seem to demand at least two hours, if not a lot more time.

One of the special things that sets Potter apart is the kind of filmic shorthand in which she works. She's speedy in the way she tells the story and presents her characters. A few strokes and we see, if not all of the man or woman, enough that we are able to parse personality; we also understand events, although we see but a small part of them. TrustMovies has never been very good a shorthand, and yet, under Potter's tutelage, he gets it.

Ms Potter, I think, is also a feminist. She gives the guys their due -- they are intelligent and nimble and sometimes helpful -- but the one "straight male" we see the most of turns out to be a too-predictable louse where sex is concerned. And as this is a coming-of-age tale, sex is everywhere around the edges -- until it becomes the central event.

So it's a trade-off, I guess. Other filmmakers would have given us a longer, heavier film, which might have tended toward soap opera. Potter sautés quickly, offering up a kind of reduction that is tasty and light, but still somehow filling. I love her work, and I hope you will, too. Ginger & Rosa, from A24 films, opens this Friday, March 15, in New York at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles at the Landmark Theater. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Note: Special Appearance -- at The Landmark, Los Angeles -- actor Alessandro Nivola will appear in person on Friday, March 15 for a Q&A after the 7:45pm show.  

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