Girls' School Hazards
Eva Green Goes Rogue
By Cole Smithey
Jordan Scott's feature film debut as a co-writer/director is so self-assured that it's tempting to take for granted the calculatedly dynamic measure of her work. The film's oblique title sadly does it no favors. The presence of Eva Green ("The Dreamers") alerted me to the mandatory nature of this film. The endlessly watchable Ms. Green plays headmistress Miss G at an all-girls boarding school on a lake in '30s-era England, although it was filmed in Ireland. A former student of the school herself, Miss G. takes a Dionysiac approach to teaching her teen girl students the importance of things like desire and freedom of expression. Daily diving classes at the lakeside provide a natural setting for the girls to give physical form to Miss G's unconventional lessons. The professedly worldly Miss G. keeps "her girls" in a strict pecking order. Her pet pupil Di Radfield (Juno Temple) lords over her peers as a mini taskmaster. However, Miss G and Di get much more than they bargained for when a Spanish aristocrat named Fiamma (Maria Valverde) arrives at the school. The beautiful and poised Fiamma is well traveled in spite of her young age. Her Roman Catholic upbringing is fodder for ridicule. There are rumors of a scandal that caused her leave Spain. It doesn't take long for Miss G. to become obsessed with Fiamma's many charms even as her jealous peers seek vengeance. Repression and opportunity from a dangerous combination of inappropriate lesbian desire. Guilty pleasure? You bet.
There are two succinct tides of human behavior at play. The catty nature of young girls finds Fiamma persecuted for her very presence in the company of her socially underdeveloped classmates. Such an interloper can not be allowed to remain in the fold. Fiamma inadvertently fans the flames of their derision by her shear ambivalence toward being accepted. Individuality never seemed so composed. Fiamma is also asthmatic. As such, she protects her physical well-being with as much careful regard as she does her sense of dignity. And yet she is generous. When Fiamma receives a care package from her family, she casually shares her exotic goodies with the other girls. Naturally, Fiamma is destined to be punished for such good deeds.
Miss G represents all the power and privilege that her underling students can one day hope to achieve. However, Fiamma sees through Miss G. as a scheming poseur who recites stories from literature as if they were her own. The delicate duel between Miss G. and Fiamma is the narrative's driving force. Fiamma is simply too charming, smart, and beautiful for her own good.
The same seething lust that Miss G fosters in her students, also simmers beneath her own blouse. When she takes her class skinny dipping at night we accept she is crossing boundaries that should not be broached. The once haughty Miss G. herself becomes subservient to Fiamma. The dynamic is a recipe for disaster. Miss G harbors a latent predatory nature that is as instinctively destructive as the petty jealousy of her students.
Directed by Ridley Scott's daughter Jordan, "Cracks" is a lush drama that challenges the relationship between academic domain and the opportunity for exploitation it allows. Cinematographer John Mathieson brings out the contrasting distance between natural beauty and the dangers it can promote. The cracks become chasms.
Not Rated. 107 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
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