Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom/Denmark/ Canada/Croatia, 2012. Adventure Pictures, BBC Films, British Film Institute, Det Danske Filminstitut, Media House Capital, Miso Film, Miso Films. Screenplay by Sally Potter. Cinematography by Robbie Ryan. Produced by Andrew Litvin, Christopher Sheppard. Production Design by Carlos Conti. Costume Design by Holly Waddington. Film Editing by Anders Refn. Toronto International Film Festival 2012.
Sally Potter returns to the big screen with an engrossing and surprisingly not very eccentric look at the lives of two girls coming of age under the threat of global annihilation. Born in the year of the Hiroshima bomb and flummoxed in their teen years with warnings about nuclear arms, both Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) have to filter the awkward process of becoming grown women through the knowledge that the world could cease to exist at any time. For Rosa this means engaging in a highly inappropriate love affair with uncomfortable connections to Ginger’s life; for Ginger, the prospect of seeking out hope is one that makes her ask painful questions about meaning without ever holding people responsible for their actions (particularly her charismatic rogue of a father, played with expert subtlety by Alessandro Nivola). Potter elicits superb performances from her actors even when their miscasting is most obvious: Fanning’s valiant attempt at Englishness rarely comes off, but her intensity and appealing emotional dedication are too impressive to ever let it ruin the experience. Tennessee native Christina Hendricks, as her mother, does not fare nearly as well, an awkward performance perhaps hindered by having to appropriate the culture, while Annette Bening is far more impressive as an activist friend visiting Fanning’s godfathers (Oliver Platt, Timothy Spall) from New York but is woefully underused. Most unwisely, however, Potter shifts focus away from Englert and Rosa’s relationship with Ginger once she reaches sexual maturity ahead of her friend (or does she?), and in going into Fanning’s head loses a lot of the great energy with which the film began. Still, the reminder that shared human experiences (in this case, simply growing up) being so variably affected by time and cultural climate is a notable one, and the director’s ever increasing talent for filming drama is a great counterbalance to her disappointing lack of experimentation here.