Sally Potter’s rites-of-passage story of two girls growing up amid the terror of early 60s nuclear proliferation has enormous potential.
Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is consistently beautiful, subtly abstract and, through doubtless no small effort, free from anachronism.
The film contains several good performances, notably from the two protagonists, Alice Englert and Elle Fanning (whose “break –out” contribution is “astonishing” according to Front Row Films), as well as from strong complimentary characters such as Christina Hendricks and the ever-steady Timothy Spall.
However, these elements lack an essential cohesion because of the stifling oppression of an inchoate and blanketing ideology: the constant threat of total nuclear destruction.
The film begins with archive footage of a levelled Hiroshima in 1945 and indeed the parallels to the setting 12 years later could be pursued to great effect, but the overarching bleakness is not tempered by either dialogue or plot.
What entails is a visual climate of apophasis and claustrophobia, where any degree of sadness is subsumed by a general encompassing mood of pointlessness; melancholia and devastation merge and any light relief seems to simply set itself up to be pulled down.
If Potter is attempting to convey a message about the powerlessness of a populace vis–à–vis international affairs through mood then in this sense Ginger and Rosa is fundamentally successful, yet its progression in this manner leaves it desolate and without nuance.
As the film progresses, Potter has the main pair diverge, taking hapless supporting characters with each and having them end up sparring over false and clichéd dichotomies that transform even the abler cast members into caricatures of themselves.
By the end of the film, the characters of peace activists such as Annette Bening’s May Bella or Andrew Hawley’s Tony have sunk to become clunky self-parodies, whist the erstwhile picaresque father of Ginger, Roland, makes certain at the finale that his intellectual candour is completely replaced by a heartlessness that is alienating by its unreality.
It cannot be admonished by that baffling weapon of the occasional critic’s arsenal – namely that “nothing really happened” – since there is pregnancy, divorce, arrest, overdosing and an embarrassingly flaunted Nabokovian eroticism.
However, after time, it feels as if certain characters have the fatalistic ardour of slasher movie assailants, performing before a watercolour backdrop, as the parataxis of the piece’s grief is too overt. Despite its stunning camera work, the plot of the film comes across as misery for misery’s sake and thus becomes a strange mix of the unrealistic and the emotionally draining.
The piece is not basically badly made but understanding what its intention is or where its essential élan lies proves to be difficult. At its core, this film is frustrating. It is highly engrossing and yet completely numbing at the same time; attempting to give it discrete qualitative boundaries seems impossible because of its incredibly confusing nature.
The film ends without any semblance of reconciliatory denouement and the viewer is left feeling as barren as the opening shots of Hiroshima, utterly crushed by this attempt to find beauty in tragedy.