Potter’s ‘Ginger & Rosa’: gripping, grim and great
ASPEN – Sally Potter, the writer and director of “Ginger & Rosa,” distances herself from the things that happen – the friendships and family entanglements, the betrayals and secrets – to the characters in her film. She points out that the film is set in 1962 – when she was 11 – while the title characters are in the full throes of teenagehood. Beyond that, Potter is known for a vast imagination – “Yes,” her 2004 creation about a cross-cultural relationship is told almost entirely in iambic pentameter – which she is more willing to rely on than her grasp of long-ago events.”Memory is such a strange thing. It’s mutable, and stories change,” Potter said regarding what she recalled from 50 years ago. The activity in “Ginger & Rosa,” she added, came from “memory, but more from research, other people’s stories, and the figment of my imagination.”Which is not to say that Potter’s own experience is left out of “Ginger & Rosa.” Asked about the film’s setting – London, 1962, the height of Cold War hostilities and nuclear arms paranoia – Potter instantly switched gears. She remembers it vividly, with enough detail and overall feel that the atmosphere of the times becomes not just a backdrop, but a force in the movie. Even the look of “Ginger & Rosa” conveys the sense of dread and futility that is lodged in Potter’s memory.”I was aware, even as a young child, of the existence of nuclear weapons,” Potter said from London, where she lives. “I was told of Hiroshima and knew of the horrible consequences. I was on these marches as a child. I was very, very afraid of the consequences. I remember that feeling of fear and threat.””Ginger & Rosa,” which shows at 6 p.m. Friday at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings series, portrays how that unsettling social climate affects a pair of teenage friends who were born on the same day in the same hospital, and the world around them. The film deftly captures the gravity of people’s choices under an umbrella of nuclear angst; each move toward adulthood made by Ginger (Elle Fanning, in a remarkable performance) and Rosa (Alice Englert, the daughter of filmmaker Jane Campion), each declaration of religion, sexuality, rebellion, is fraught. Often what is emphasized is the effect of the atmosphere on society’s moral compass. Ginger’s father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), who had been jailed for his pacifist stance during World War II, uses the possibility of global annihilation as an excuse to be a lousy husband and father. “It’s people feeling this could be the last day,” Potter said. “So it’s life at any cost. Or love at any cost.””Ginger & Rosa” captures the gloom right down to the look. Gray and spare, you can almost see the nuclear fallout on the horizon. “I tried to take a lot of things out of the image. Not much furniture, streets empty of cars,” Potter said. “That was the wish, to create something completely real, but also a heightened sense of life on the edge.”••••The specific time period in “Ginger & Rosa” was chosen not only for the Cold War chill that existed, but also for what didn’t exist just yet. In 1962, the stereotypical ’60s – the Swinging ’60s as it was known in London – had yet to take hold. Ginger, a poet and peacenik, goes to anti-nukes marches and receives guidance in liberal politics from a trio of adults who serve as something of a liberal Greek chorus: her godfather (Timothy Spall), his boyfriend (Oliver Platt) and their American friend (Annette Bening). Still, Ginger and Rosa don’t quite have the tools of the ’60s to fully express their rebellion.”This was before the ’60s as we now think of it – flowers in your hair, peace. Nineteen-sixty-two was before all that; it was really the end of the ’50s, before the phrase, ‘the personal is political,'” Potter said. So Ginger and Rosa’s actions are solitary ones, and occasionally stumbling ones; there is not much of a movement to join. “I remember the ambience of confusion. There wasn’t a vocabulary for thinking about how to have personal relationships and ideological lives. That idea that if you wanted to change the world, you had to change yourself,” Potter said.For Potter, the seed of “Ginger & Rosa” was wanting to make a film where individual lives are dictated, or at least enormously affected, by an outside force as big as a nuclear showdown. “I wanted to find a way of integrating this huge crisis, that could have affected life on Earth, with the most intimate, even secret things that could happen to a person,” she said. “Each person faces his own apocalypse in their life, and they get over it, and that makes them the person they become.”Potter’s greatest ally in shaping these ideas, amazingly, was 11 years old when Potter began searching for her Ginger. Potter considered 2,000 actors, many via Facebook, for the roles of Ginger and Rosa (she swore the number was roughly accurate). When the pool was down to 200, one of those who rose to the top was Elle Fanning, who had been acting since the age of 2, and had appeared in “Super 8” and “Somewhere.””I immediately flew to Los Angeles. She was 12 by then, and I went, ‘My god – 12!” Potter said. “But I worked with her on some scenes and she was absolutely amazing. I was bowled over. She’s able to make such an enormous leap into a role.”By the time of the five-week shoot, Fanning was 13 – and nailing the role of the 17-year-old Ginger. She earned best actress honors at the Valladolid International Film Festival in Spain and is nominated in the same category by the British Independent Film Awards.Along with telling a story that plays out under an apocalyptic threat, and one set in the early ’60s, Potter wanted her characters to come from a specific place in British hierarchy. Ginger and Rosa and their families come from middle-class London, a set filled more with ideas and ambitions than resentment (like the lower classes) or material objects (like the ruling class).”This slice of British society is very rarely portrayed,” she said. “You either have the Queen, the royal family, or real out-and-out working class. This is the in-between zone, of free-thinking people trying to figure out their life. It’s the society I grew up with. And the actors all said, ‘Oh, I know people just like that.'”Potter has been hearing a lot of that from festival audiences.”They say all the time: ‘This is my story,'” she said. “I’m not sure if they mean the friendship or betrayal or first love or breaking up of the family.”firstname.lastname@example.org
Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings series, which presents one-time screenings of films considered Oscar contenders, runs through Tuesday, Jan. 1. (There are no films scheduled for Monday, Dec. 31). All screenings are at the Wheeler Opera House.• Today”Argo” at 3:15: Ben Affleck’s take on an episode from the 1979 hostage situation in Tehran deftly mixes thrills, politics, comedy and espionage. “Argo,” which features Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman, tilts a bit heavy toward the implausible, but there’s no denying the fun here. Even Affleck the actor is solid here, in a starring role as CIA operative Tony Mendez.”Rust and Bone” at 8:15: French director Jacques Audiard’s film is part romance, part family drama. The romance, between a careless drifter and a whale trainer (Oscar winner Marion Cotillard), is fascinating and touching; the family stuff is brutal to the point of being unfair.• Saturday, Dec. 29″Anna Karenina” at 2:45: Joe Wright directs Keira Knightley and Jude Law in an adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel about a high-society romance in 19th century Russia.”Quartet” at 5:45: At 75, Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with this English comedy of a diva (Maggie Smith) whose arrival at a retirement home ruffles the feathers of the inhabitants, as they try to stage their annual concert. Smith has been nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress.”Promised Land” at 8:15: Gus Van Sant directs a drama of a natural-gas salesman (Matt Damon) who faces opposition in a small town. Damon and co-star John Krasinski wrote the screenplay; also featured are Frances McDormand and Hal Holbrook.• Sunday, Dec. 30″The Sessions” at 3: A man in an iron lung (John Hawkes) contacts a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) about losing his virginity; both Hawkes and Hunt are Golden Globe nominees for their performances. William H. Macy co-stars as a priest who is also in on the discussion.”A Royal Affair” at 5:15: This Danish historical drama of romance, royalty and insanity by Nikolaj Arcel earned two top awards at the Berlin Film Festival.”On the Road” at 8:15: Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical novel, the seminal text of the Beat generation, has been the discussion of a film adaptation pretty much since its 1957 publication. Brazilian director Walter Salles has experience with revolution-minded road films, having triumphed with 2004’s “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund star as the Beats Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, young men in search of meaning as they travel across America; the supporting cast includes Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst.• Tuesday, Jan. 1:”The Intouchables” at 2:45: A warmhearted French comedy about an injured upper-class gentleman who hires a young man from the projects to be his caretaker. Omar Sy, as the caretaker, won the French Csar Award for best actor; the film was nominated for a total of nine Csars.”Not Fade Away” at 5:15: “The Sopranos” creator David Chase is still in New Jersey, but the time and subject matter have changed. “Not Fade Away” is set in the ’60s and tells of a teenager from a middle-class suburban family with dreams of rock ‘n’ roll glory. This is also a different medium for Chase, who makes his debut as a big-screen director here. One familiar point: Chase is still working with James Gandolfini, who plays a beleaguered father.”Zero Dark Thirty” at 8: Kathryn Bigelow, whose last film, 2008’s “The Hurt Locker,” earned the best picture Oscar, returns to military matters. “Zero Dark Thirty” chronicles the search for, and eventual killing of Osama bin-Laden. Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton star; the film is nominated for four Golden Globes: best picture, best director, best actress and best original screenplay.-Stewart Oksenhorn
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