Three of the films featured in the 2012 New York Film Festival (produced by the Film Society of Lincoln Center) explore friendships between women or girls. Ginger & Rosa is a drama by screenwriter/director Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson) that chronicles a friendship between two teens in the early 1960’s.
Elle Fanning (Super 8) deftly plays the lead character of Ginger, and the story centers around her. At the press conference at Lincoln Center, Potter said, “We had one principle and one principle only, which was that Ginger was the axis of every scene and that we were seeing every event through her eyes, either looking at her or seeing or feeling what she was seeing or feeling.”
New actress Alice Englert plays Fanning’s best friend, whose betrayal causes turmoil in their relationship. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) is Fanning’s mother, and Alessandro Nivola (Janie Jones) plays her father.
Set in England against the backdrop of nuclear proliferation, Fanning becomes a young activist and fears a nuclear holocaust, as her personal life falls apart around her.
It’s a well-done narrative with strong performances throughout, but it’s definitely an art film that will be slow-moving for the average movie-goer. The look of the film is purposely realistic, and much of it was shot with a handheld camera. A 2013 release date hasn’t yet been set.
Interestingly, Potter cast a lot of American actors in the film, most of whom had to work on very specific British accents. She said that she was more concerned with casting the right actors for the emotional challenges of their roles.
Fanning and Nivola are especially great, and it’s nice to see Christina Hendricks given the opportunity to stretch as an actress. I saw Nivola on stage in The Elephant Man alongside Bradley Cooper and Patricia Clarkson this past summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.
Ever since then, I’ve been a fan and have checked out some of his other films. Take a look at my article about The Elephant Man (which may make its way to Broadway next year), and check out Nivola’s films, Janie Jones with Abigail Breslin and $5 A Day with Christopher Walken, both of which I liked a lot.
Nivola talked at the press conference about playing a less than sympathetic character. “I think one of the things that makes it difficult to place him on the moral spectrum is that everything he says is right and a lot of what he does is wrong,” he said. “Sally put the words of truth in the mouth of an untrustworthy character. It’s always interesting to do that because it’s unsettling for the audience, and they don’t know how to respond to the character because on the one hand, they agree with him, and on the other hand, they find him deplorable.”
Potter gave her young actors the lowdown on life in the 1960’s. “Sally said she was a Beatnik, and they were the cool people who, like, listened to jazz music,” a bubbly Fanning said with a giggle.
Noah Baumbach‘s Frances Ha is a charming comedy set in New York with a friendship between two women as one of its central themes. Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) co-wrote the film with its star, Greta Gerwig (To Rome With Love), and it’s in black and white, even though it was shot digitally in color. Baumbach said in the press conference that it’s difficult to shoot on black and white film today because you can’t get it processed.
He avoided looking at the footage in color. He watched it on a black and white monitor and edited it in black and white. “The black and white was kind of a feeling. It just felt like it should be….,” Baumbach said. “It was always something that I just wanted to do to shoot in black and white and shoot New York in black and white.”
Oddly, none of the actors were given the entire script. Baumbach wanted them to focus on the moment rather than possibly fall into the trap of thinking about the whole narrative. Mickey Sumner (The Borgias), who plays Gerwig’s friend, said the experience of only reading her own scenes was “refreshing and liberating.”
I didn’t get to see Beyond the Hills, a dramatic foreign film in the festival that focuses on the relationship between a nun and her childhood friend. The friend tries to get the nun to leave her cloistered life, but the film, directed by Cristian Mungiu, is primarily based on a real case of alleged demonic possession in Romania. It scored some awards at the Cannes Film Festival.
I don’t know what these recurring themes of female friendship say about the state of the film industry, but it’s nice to see women highlighted among the sea of movies that always seem to focus heavily on the lives of men.
The New York Film Festival continues through Sunday, October 14, 2012.