TIFF 09: CRACKS Review

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
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TIFF 09:  CRACKS Review

I wish that the Harry Potter franchise had even half the energy and youthful confusion on display in this boarding school film.  The directorial debut of Jordan Scott (yes, daughter of Ridley) proving that a flair for memorable visuals may just be a genetic trait.  After following a similar path as her father and (and her more freneticly inclined uncle Tony, who along with his brother is a producer on the film), by way of directing videos and commercials in the UK. The title, Cracks comes pregnant with meaning and comfortably easy to digest narrative that is not without a few surprises.  Whether you go with the vulgar interpretation of adult and sexual awaking of young girls (with all the wild and nubile young flesh on frolicking around on display, this is going to be a favorite for the pervy-types) or the more polite inference to the initial crumblings of the status quo for an institution that looks, by its imposing architecture and stern faced matrons, to be timeless, or even perhaps the British slang for 'a joke.' I'm sure Ms. Scott was aiming for all three, which collectivelly give even the most casual filmgoer a number of things to nibble on while the story sashays around and through various expectations and cliches.

In an Irish boarding school for orphaned girls, life runs and swims to the rhythms of Cosmopolitan and sexy teacher and diving coach, Ms. G. (Eva Green as glamorous and sexy as she was in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers or the James Bond reboot). Green's entrance to the picture, a haughty and perhaps even suggestive stroll down the middle of the aisle during choir, is a memorable one, usually reserved for the new student rather than the teacher. Ms. G regales the girls with stories of her travels around the world, and generally espousing a carpe diem attitude, with proclamations along the line of, "Desire is the most important thing in life!" - the desire to achieve, the desire to live life to its fullest she seems an odd fit in comparison to the rest of the staff and matrons of the school. Exactly the type of mentor that these girls would be inclined to remember decades down the road as an inspiration. But the story told here is not so simple as that. When an exotic new girl, Fiamma of Spanish aristocratic descent (Gasp! She is Roman Catholic!) joins the ranks (intriguingly, banished? Exiled? Simply boarded for a while?) it throws the lives of the girls into disarray. Di, the team captain of the diving team does the thing usually seen in this sort of tale. She bullies, threatens and makes no bones about asserting her authority in a number of potentially humiliating ways. Having done a fair bit of travel, and 'lived' more than the average student of the class, Fiamma and her haughtiness is curiously indulged by Ms. G all the while making more subtle attempts to bring the 'princess' into the fold.

The trials and tribulations, for both the students and their unorthodox teacher, gradually are brought to a boil that subverts many of the typical paths in either a coming of age story or a typical 'school-girl dormitory' tale.  But this is not a mystery of the Picnic at Hanging Rock variety, but instead offers strange and confusing peeks at adult complexities; things kept on the outside of the hermetically sealed school. Notions of who the 'villain' is or forgiveness for youthful transgressions are thrown out the window in favour of an honest-to-goodness learning experience wrapped beautifully and satisfyingly in a fairy tale. The slow-motion and underwater photography offers suggestions of the amniotic state the girls are in, with the promise of the 'butterflies' they are to become. But it is also cold, harsh and more than a little frightening to make those large dives into chilly spring waters. Scott wraps her images in high melodrama, magical realism and yet still retains the basic power of a confused young girl. It has the rawness and restless energy of Heavenly Creatures (and supporting actress, Imogen Poots (28 Weeks later...) in a vital supporting role is as good a stand in as any for a young Kate Winslet, and for that matter, Di has a few loose similarites to Melanie Lynskey's Pauline Charater.  And Jordon Scott is worthy of comparison to Peter Jackson as he came into his own in the 1990s and of the legacy left from her famous family. On second thought, perhaps a better analogue would be Sophia Coppola. Either way, Scott has a big future ahead of her if she keeps makes films like ths one, and hey, the Potter Franchise needs someone to close up the series...

[In the Q&A that followed the screening Scott mentioned that she has 'the boarding' school thing out of her system, but I would indeed like to see her take on a similar tale of lost innocence leading towards a grim future, Kazou Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go; although that is currently in production with Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) directing.]

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fhoomSeptember 17, 2009 12:52 AM

Second rave I've just read about this one. Welcome to a new talent, nice to have another strong female voice. A serious film about women should ideally only be made by a woman. Intriguing title indeed, i bet the pervs have no doubt of the intended meaning. And well, gazing at the creamy legs in that picture, it doesn't make me think much about facades or establishments either.
The Potter films are sadly already locked up with director attached, though he's the one that supposedly made the best film of the series...better than Cuaron's, is that possible?
See if you can find us a trailer for this one.

trendawaySeptember 22, 2009 5:20 PM

I thought Cracks was boring and uninspired. I found little of merit and was disappointed as I was really looking forward to it. I felt like Scott had some potentially good ideas but not the skill or experience in storytelling in this format to be able to succesfully execute them. Eva Green was unconvincing and I didn't feel for her character at all.

As far as comparing it to the Potter series goes... I suppose you could say that there are similarities, perhaps in regards to children dealing with themes that tend to be considered "adult". The boarding school theme is, I think, secondary to other themes in the Potter series. If we are comparing to the "boarding school" film, Cracks falls quite shy of Dead Poets Society, School Ties, Rushmore, Another Country and Les Choristes, to name a few. Anybody reading his review expecting somethign remotely Harry Potter-ish is going to be even more disappointed than I was, despite having absolutely no expectations in that vein.

That being said, I liked this review! I didn't like the film but this review made me think about it a bit more.

Kurt HalfyardSeptember 22, 2009 6:44 PM

I hope it didn't come across that I was comparing this to Harry Potter. I am not. My point was that I wish that Harry Potter could grasp some of the more adult themes and 'coming-of-age' stuff in this film and channel it in with the wizards and potions.

Oh, and best boarding school movie is PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, but I've got high hopes for Mark Romanek's NEVER LET ME GO whenever it gets made...