Year Released: 2011
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 104 minutes
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High school has been hell for many teens. But the most hellish on film may be the boarding school in Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go,” in which students are raised for their organs. The memory of this film is hard to shake when coming across a boarding school movie. “Cracks” is co-written (with Ben Court and Caroline Ip, from Sheila Kohler’s novel) and directed by Jordan Scott, daughter of Ridley and niece to Tony. From a Scott, especially a young one, we expect snappy scenes and editing down the high school hallways. “Cracks” begins on a quieter tone, though perversion and rivalry will find their way in.
At a British boarding school, 1934, a mod coach, Miss G. (Eva Green), is a little too close to Di (Juno Temple). She’s a leader among students and a standout on the girlschool’s informal diving team, which practices at a lake. A woman with big dreams, Miss G. instills desire her girls, while they study Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” the lyric on greatness not lasting, in an older teacher’s class. As Di finds inspiration (and likely, gratification) in Miss G., the youth intimidates other students (though she confesses her naughty thoughts to a priest, face to face). While teen actors often seem too precocious, Temple is only in her character’s manipulation.
These Anglican girls tell xenophobic stories about Catholics, like how nuns entomb their unwanted babies upright, like the crucifix image that they also insult. So the arrival of Spanish noble Fiamma (María Valverde) breaks the status quo. She first seems to be a temporary student, until we learn she was sent away for her unfavorable romance. Fiamma has a swarthy appeal that the fair- and matted-haired schoolgirls lack. Immediately teased as an outsider, Fiamma catches the eye of Miss G. Fiamma wins over the students (except the jealous Di) when the new girl nails a perfect flip off the diving board. The diving shots draw attention to the girls’ bodies and how the approaching conflict will concern sexuality and power.
Miss G. enters the girls’ sleeping quarters to sneak them out for a nighttime swim. As we dread a “Dead Poets Society” moment, Miss G. then drops her clothes before diving in an elegant (read deliberate) attempt to shock her charges into liveliness, and perhaps catch the attention of the new girl. The other girls follow suit, which seems to affect Di more that Fiamma. Fiamma has the confidence and beauty of a worldly young woman, a character to which Miss M. has aspired, though a boarding girl school herself. From here, Miss G’s dependence on Fiamma grows into an attraction. Such a relationship appears in Margarethe von Trotta’s “Vision,” though this mentor goes from poise to neurosis too quickly. At first addressing the girls like a born leader, she openly distresses over Fiamma, an act that any experienced teacher would know to be dangerous. Sadly, this is a film about a teacher that doesn’t understand its subject.
But Scott isn’t putting on pretensions about it. We have to settle with her battle of the hormonals. They take up a collection to send off with Fiamma, who’d be happy to leave if she had somewhere to go. At this point, Scott rushes to the deadlines of her plot with less concern over character. Fiamma, just having returned from the betrayal, moves to sympathy for Di. Now reunited, the girls plan with Fiamma a midnight party, which is the script’s inner most cave, though a darker situation comes for Fiamma.
“Cracks” has some fun with the schoolgirl rivalry – think “Black Swan” brought to realism, and about as common in its motifs. (How many of us rolled our eyes when Portman’s reflection turned on its own – after she’d already seen herself on the street?) Along with Fiamma’s shift, we can’t buy a miscast Eva Green, whose teacher begins the film faultless and finishes looking like “The Turn of the Screw’s” governess. And if you know the rule about coughing in movies, the fate of another character won’t be a surprise.
Posted on May 16, 2011 in Reviews by Matthew Sorrento
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