In 1945, as the war still rages, two women lay covered in white bedsheets in a London hospital. They're both in labor, and they're both in a great deal of pain. One reaches out her pale hand to the other, who clasps it. And four friends are born -- mothers Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and Anoushka (Jodhi May), and their daughters, Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert).

Fast-forward to 1962, and the teenage Ginger and Rosa are inseparable, though Natalie and Anoushka no longer are. The two girls spend nearly every waking moment together, though their personalities are far apart. Ginger is a serious girl who reads Simone de Beauvoir and has aspirations of being a poet. She hears about the Cuban Missile Crisis on the radio and becomes obsessed with helping to avert what she sees as imminent nuclear disaster. Rosa, on the other hand, is more interested in boys than bombs, though she shares clues of an understated but deep belief in God. She attends radical meetings with Ginger but looks incredibly bored.

But everything changes as we grow older, and friendship is no exception. Though most don't change quite in this way: Ginger begins to notice Rosa taking a peculiar interest in her father, Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a radical himself, and a college professor. When Roland leaves the family, unable to take the self-imposed martyrdom of his wife, what might have been an awkward situation becomes something far more dangerous. Especially since Roland contributed to his wife's unhappiness with his unhealthy interest in his young female students. Ginger notes that he insists she call him Roland: "He said Dad makes him think of slippers by the fire and other bourgeois death traps."

On screen
'Ginger & Rosa'
» Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
» Starring: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks
» Director: Sally Potter
» Rated: PG-13 for mature, disturbing thematic material involving teen choices -- sexuality, drinking, smoking -- and for language
» Running time: 90 minutes

"Ginger & Rosa" deals with some ugly facts of life -- and skirts on the edge of melodrama at times -- but it's a beautiful piece of cinema. Director Sally Potter cares deeply about Ginger, an innocent about to lose it -- it's all over the way she captures her on camera. At the beginning, Rosa is part of that beauty, too, but as the girls drift away from each other, so does the perspective drift away from Rosa.

Both girls manifest the talent of much older, more experienced actresses as they play teenagers on the cusp of womanhood who still play childish games with one other right before they go off to sneak a smoke. The focus is on Fanning, though, and she doesn't disappoint. She was only 13 when she played Ginger, who's a few years older, though not always wiser. It hurts to see such a beautiful, warmhearted girl who wants to save the world forced to see her own crumble. But it's clear the disappointments of real life hurt her creator, too.