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TIFF Review: Sally Potter's 'Ginger & Rosa' Stars a Remarkable Elle Fanning UPDATED

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood September 7, 2012 at 10:20AM

Sally Potter's "Ginger & Rosa" premiered at the Telluride Film Festival last week, with first screenings Friday in Toronto.
Elle Fanning in "Ginger and Rosa."
Elle Fanning in "Ginger and Rosa."

Sally Potter's "Ginger & Rosa" premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and went on to play Toronto, New York and London fests. A24 will release the film stateside on March 15.

Potter's visually lyrical, emotionally trenchant coming-of-age story centers on Ginger (Fanning), a smart, shy 17-year-old growing up in 1962 working-class Britain. Though Ginger seems at first to be the naïve, passively aggreable sidekick to her sultry, confident best friend Rosa (Alice Englert), she quickly reveals a political radicalism that isn't so much budding as forced into sudden, vibrant maturation. In Ginger's acutely felt universe, the imminent threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis collides with the slow shattering of her personal support system.

Her charismatic father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a leftist political writer and petulant, brooding genius, abandons ship for the umpteenth time, leaving her alone with her angry and beleaguered mother, Nat (Christina Hendricks). Typically, Ginger resents her mum and ardently admires Roland, and eventually moves into his Bohemian-chic garrett. This only brings to boil the simmering romance between Rosa and Roland, as Ginger finds herself the discarded and invisible midpoint between the two people she cherishes most.

Unknown ObjectFanning, who was only 13 during the film's production, is superb as Ginger. A beauty whose lankiness and self-possession belies her age, she captures the sexual confusion, stinging emotion and sincere idealism that goes with being on the cusp of womanhood, while maintaining a reasonably good Brit accent. (Interestingly, most of the actors populating this UK production are American.) She also is instantly believable as a poet and young radical, giving Ginger an observant intensity that accelerates into focused, angry volition.

True to her nickname, Ginger has flaming red hair, offset against the nuclear-fallout greys and blues Potter inflects into each frame. This works as a classic visual clue that Ginger is vividly different from others, most notably from Rosa, who we see tragically assimilate as the film and her toxic relationship with Roland progresses. Another redhead is Nat (Hendricks keeps her fire-engine locks from "Mad Men") who proves stronger than first impression, and worthy of her tightknit group of politically active friends (played by the near-unbeatable trifecta of Annette Benning, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt). With this chorus of influences, Ginger charts the course of her front-line coming of age.

This article is related to: Reviews, Toronto International Film Festival, Elle Fanning, Sally Potter, Sally Potter

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.