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Ginger & Rosa (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 90 minutes.

Not for children.

I thought that existentialism became passť upon the death of John Paul Sartre in 1980. You donít hear much about it these days, but along comes this film whose prime mover is Roland (Alessandro Nivola) whose daughter is the titular Ginger (Elle Fanning). Weíre shown that Ginger is inseparable from her friend Rosa (Alice Englert, who is presently being seen on the screen as the star of Beautiful Creatures. This, however was her first film). Englert, although not stunningly beautiful, exhibits a unique steamy sexuality that marks her as a star in the making.

We meet Ginger and Rosa at their birth in the same hospital on the same day in 1945 and get to know them in 1962 at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, which Ginger takes very seriously. Gingerís mother, Natalie (Christina Hendricks) is in a terrible relationship with her husband, Gingerís father, Roland. Like most existentialists, the things that Roland says sound wonderfully intuitive. When disdaining religion, Roland tells Ginger, ďThe only life we have is the one we have now which is why we must seize it.Ē That sounds like such a wonderful, self-evident truth. Roland lives that. He seizes it in a way that maximizes his pleasure, regardless of responsibilities to family or to other people. As the film progresses Roland is shown to be especially hatefully selfish. It is a wonderful indictment of existentialismís self-absorption.

The cast is fantastic. Nivola is charming and attractive. The way he expresses his existential beliefs is captivating until one sees how he actually lives his philosophy in the way treats his wife and daughter.

Fanning gives a fine, sensitive performance as the naÔve young girl getting to know her own mind, torn between feuding parents and the actions of her best friend.

Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall play the openly gay couple. Could there be a film about existentialism in the 1960s without one such couple? Rounding out the cast is Annette Bening, kind of a British answer to Gertrude Stein, a liberal single woman writer with a butch haircut in this group of effete Bloomsbury Group replicas.

As good as the cast is, the film is buttressed by wonderful cinematography (Robbie Ryan) and period music (Amy Ashworth, Music Supervisor and Alan Lewens, Music Consultant).

Written and directed by confirmed feminist Sally Potter ("I came from an atheist background and an anarchist background, which meant that I grew up in an environment that was full of questions, where nothing could be taken for granted"), this is a surprising indictment, at least to me, of the type of person normally associated with people like Virginia Woolf (the author of the book upon which Potterís 1992 film, Orlando, was based) and her Bloomsbury Group.

Regardless of (or maybe because of) the ideological slant, this is a fascinating film.