Just a Schoolgirl Crush
Published on March 18th, 2011 | by Carlos J. Segura0
From Miss G’s (Eva Green) romantic and delusional point of view she probably thinks she’s starring in “Mädchen in Uniform” (this reviewer has only seen the ’30s version and not the Romy Schneider version) or “Lost and Delirious” if you happen to be a younger person reading this. From poor Fiamma’s (a striking Maria Valverde) p.o.v. it’s more “Single White Female” set in a boarding school. That last sentence promises something much more batty than what you’re actually going to get. Yes, “Cracks” does feature a dangerous and paranoid adult teacher with a serious case of arrested development. Yes, there is pedophilia, lesbianism, rape and some violence but raincoat crowd material this is not (Javier Navarette’s pretty but overused score makes this clear more than anything). “Cracks” is Di’s (Juno Temple) story through and through; and from her side of things it’s a dark rite of passage tale that is told with an oh so delicate touch.
The film is set in the 1930s in England in an isolated boarding school for girls, which is very picturesque with its surrounding greenery and open skies (some of the cinematography by John Mathieson is wonderfully ornate). Taking charge of a group of girls that all room together is the headstrong Di, who has designated herself the unofficial leader of the pack. Di’s source of desire and inspiration for leadership is the seemingly worldly and revolutionary Miss G. Miss G is one of those teachers that every boy would deliberately get detention for (this is Eva Green after all) and every girl longs to be. With her talk of travel to faraway, exotic lands—back when an independent female traveler was surely not as commonplace as it is today—and how the girls should aspire to more, desire more, her commitment to pushing the girls towards excellence, independence and strength is truly intoxicating and contagious. It is easy to see how these girls would be spellbound by Miss G and this world of girl power and exotic fantasy she’s got them living in.
Suddenly, the spell is broken by an aristocratic newcomer from Spain named Fiamma, who is physically and mentally beyond her teenage years; she is at first is not accepted by most of the girls but soon becomes a new source of admiration for them. And Miss G. For Di she is rival for the affections of the obviously (too) smitten Miss G. Fiamma, unlike the other girls, is more on to Miss G’s peacock act. One incident in particular has Miss. G recounting a story to the girls that supposedly happened to her on her travels when Fiamma unexpectedly begins reciting the words as they’re coming out of Miss G’s mouth. Turns out Miss G stole the story from a book that Fiamma happened to have read as well.
As the audience discovers Miss G is a former student of the school that just never left because she could never bring herself to venture out into a cruel and uncertain world, preferring instead the safety and comfort of never-ending adolescence. Her travels, adventures, stories, supposed voice of experience are all theater that Fiamma threatens to expose. As a result Miss G begins to slowly unravel and despite Fiamma’s threat to her reality she begins to develop a dangerous obsession for Fiamma that promises all kinds of dark, tragic and sinister developments.
Jordan Scott’s strengths lie in the casting and her handling of the first and second portions of the film. The camaraderie between the girls, the little bubble they inhabit, feels clear and real with a firm sense of hierarchy and defined relationships between the girls. Juno Temple’s Di’s fierce and insecure nature is realized passionately by this young talent; Eva Green’s variation on her seemingly worldly but actually childish character is a more sophisticated and psycho take on her performance in “The Dreamers.” Sadly, Green is a borderline supporting character despite her face on the film’s poster and top billing. Valverde, surprisingly older than she looks in her actual life, is a real find, able to easily match Ms. Green.
Scott falters in the third portion of the film because she still insists on maintaining some semblance of an atmosphere of gentility and innocence. It simply doesn’t make sense to do that when you’re bringing in all those things mentioned in the first part of this review and it has nothing to do with how little or how much is shown. It’s about what the camera, lighting, music and sound should have gradually come about suggesting and revealing as a counterpart to the story; in short, Ms. Scott’s biggest flaw lies in her stagnant and safe choice of atmosphere. While writing this I couldn’t help but remember a film called “Innocence,” which is also set in an isolated boarding school for girls, where there is no real graphic sexual or violent content on-screen, and yet all throughout there is a very palpable sense of impending danger of the loss of innocence of the young girls in the film, all thanks to Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s sure hand with the the audio and the visual.
In order for the events of the story to twist at the guts of the viewer (as they should), and to really convey the sensitivity that comes with experiencing things, especially traumatic things, in one’s adolescent stage, some kind of subtle or overt changes needed to come about in the aesthetic choices. Instead Scott chooses to not risk losing her audience by cushioning the film with harmonious music and soft, visual beauty all throughout, the better to leave certain crowds feeling good about having seen something tasteful yet “risque” and “challenging” that will let them sleep at night. To make things worse the note on which this film ends is so ridiculously simple and upbeat as opposed to conveying the more complicated and complex feelings that would naturally come about from witnessing such dark and tragic events. The film leaves one feeling less like they came of age and more like they’re in arrested development.