Monday, 23 November 2009

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Cracks


A film I have wanted to be made for such a long time – it was utterly brilliant from start to finish. Beautifully shot, with a plot dealt with the slightest of hands from director Jordan Scott, and an excellent cast headed by the gorgeous and mesmerising Eva Green, who delivers one of the finest performances of her career – and in film this year – as Miss G.

Firstly, as I’ve said time and time before, I LOVE boarding school stories, especially ones with a sinister undercurrent, that play on the isolating surroundings and the abundance of pubescent females full to the brim of jealousy, obsession, desire, curiosity, greed, and so forth. It’s an intoxicating set-up. This film (making a few changes from the book by Sheila Kohler) is set in a rural English boarding school in the 1930s, where all the rich parents send their daughters because, quite frankly, they can’t be bothered parenting them. The girls, led by Di and Penny (identical twins of Pauline and Juliet from Heavenly Creatures to an astonishing degree!), bond together and are united in their love and idolisation of Miss G, one of the teachers at the school, whose vivacious and charismatic personality is so uncharacteristic of the stuffiness of the rest of the staff captivates her pupils into believing they can do whatever they want in life, and have amazing adventures around the globe just like her. With so many of the girls having absent and uncaring mothers, Miss G becomes their only role model, and for some of them the infatuation is more than passing.

Then to break up the comfortable scene, an exotic addition joins the class. Fiamma is from Spain, and although she is the same age as the other girls, she has acquired vast amounts of knowledge and experience as part of a royally blessed family. The girls initially shun her, especially when she shows more style and prowess than they do in her appearance, airs and her athleticism. But it’s this difference that catches the eye of Miss G, and slowly a role reversal forms in the classroom, and the object of desire and approval is no longer for the teacher.

The film starts off slowly, and steadily builds through a series of episodes involving the girls and their jealousy towards Fiamma, and then ultimately towards the climax at the end which is not as violent as Heavenly Creatures, but is thoroughly disturbing and shocking all the same. What is captured brilliantly is the deviance of Miss G, a woman who you believe has done it all, and then you slowly begin to realise how messed up and deluded she is as Fiamma breaks her down. Because the girls adore Miss G, they fail to grasp the truth and they hate Fiamma more for trying to fault Miss G. It’s this turn of events which makes the climax even more deadly and tragic.

The character of Miss G has to be one of the most beautifully unravelled on the big screen (and Eva Green is excellent in executing this). Because she is the spotlight, the person we all desire to be, to go from this to utterly despising her at the end is some accomplishment. The wordless stare between Miss G and Di as events unfold around them at the end is powerful and unnerving, and will leave you chilled to the bone. Excellent acting and direction.

Obviously some of the acting from the younger girls was a bit ropey at times, but the lead two or three are surprisingly polished and give convincing and affecting performances – after looking at their resumes on imdb afterwards I see they are building very promising careers indeed!

Was slightly disappointed by the ending – I thought it seemed a little bit ridiculous compared to what we had seen of their lives before it, and dare I say a little melodramatic which spoiled the subtlety of the film which works really well in building suspense. There are times during the film when you wish they would push things further, but if you’re patient, you’ll be fully rewarded by the end.

With echoes of Heavenly Creatures, resemblance to French film Innocence and hefty doses of Lord of the Flies, Cracks can cast all of these comparisons aside and sit aloft as an impressive, sophisticated and ultimately stirring film, with an engrossing and disturbing story brought to life with a terrific cast and a director to keep your eye on. Go and see it, I think it’s my favourite film of the year, not just the festival.


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