Directed by Jordan Scott.
Starring Eva Green, Juno Temple, Maria Valverde and Imogen Poots.
A diving team of adolescent girls at a boarding school adore their inspirational teacher, Miss G (Eva Green), whose favourite is team captain, Di (Juno Temple). But when an aristocratic new girl arrives, focuses shift, and tensions begin, leading to dark places…
Director Jordan Scott is right to call the boarding school story a genre, and this one is much akin to Heavenly Creatures. Both are early 20th C English language dramas about intense relationships between teenage girls on an island that ends in tragic and criminal acts. Both begin with a hymn being sung in assembly, and then the tension begins with a foreign new student who gets special treatment.
But the New Zealand film that gave Kate Winslet her first starring role is about a real life 1950s event, and the intensity between two schoolgirls; Cracks is about a fictional teacher/pupil triangle in 1930s, filmed in Ireland.
Cracks does not lend itself to the special effects creating Pauline Parker and Juliette Hulme’s imagination which have become a Peter Jackson trademark; but Cracks is cinematic, with emblematic, brooding shots of Irish lakes and hills. When a storm gathers over the landscape, it is symbolic of emotional tensions. The water is also a motif of freedom and views from under it show a spiritual ecstasy. It isn’t mentioned in the film, but I wonder if Michael Symmons Roberts’ Anatomy of a Perfect Dive is insinuated. Miss G does speak of the poetry of separating mind and body as one dives perfectly; and how being between heaven and earth brings freedom and desire makes anything possible.
Her philosophy of physical education is unsurprisingly inspiring to the team of pupils she takes special interest in – two in particular.
This is another creepy mad story about same sex unrequited love. Like Heavenly Creatures it also joins The Talented Mr Ripley and Notes on a Scandal, although I don’t think the intention is to suggest homosexuality is crazy or unhealthy; but rather to explore the dramatic possibilities of an enclosed and intense existence which boarding schools on islands lend themselves to.
As Miss G unravels with her frustrated love, her bohemian headscarf copied by her girls disappears and so does her makeup: her face is gaunt, the colours of her clothes go until in the scene where her love dies, she wears beige. Only smudged dark eye makeup remains.
I have a query that Di – who must be under 16 – manages to escape the school and find the means to travel alone in that era. I was also sad that Miss G seems to go to a kind of Phantom Zone, being trapped in a living prison of death and no hint that, like Di, she will break free and live a new life. In that way, the film does end like Heavenly Creatures where both the girls are sent to prison, never to meet again. The love interest here is dead and so is the relationship between the original side of the triangle, and her idolising diving team have rejected her.
I agree with The Tamarind that Eva Green is reminiscent of Charlotte Rampling in this role, especially as I first encountered Charlotte in her early 70s role as Anne Boleyn – an alluring exotic woman who careers towards her downfall.
I read the short novel directly after, and see why it is called by a critic ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock meets Lord of the Flies.’ Set in sensuous hot South Africa, author Shelia Kohler puts herself in the story, telling it in collective first person but no-one identifies themself as the narrator. Inserting a modern day reunion, there are many changes – dark Spanish Fiamma (Maria Valverde) is Italian, and both she and Di are blond; the setting is not an island and the diving team never try to send Fiamma home. We know of Fiamma’s disappearance all along, but her end is so horrible I cannot bear to hint at it, but I am very glad that the film changed this significantly.
I stopped believing in the romance and characters in the story. I also noted the strange contradiction between the blatant physical crush the girls had on their female teacher, their explicit wish that Fiamma and Miss G would ‘do it’ and their re-enactments of that during the Feast of St Agnes where some girls were in drag – and then their horror at lesbianism.
I note on the author’s website that she immediately explains that real life events led her to violent and dark stories – which cannot be over exaggerated here. Ultimate darkness is not of interest to me and I do not believe it to be more real than hope and redemption.
As someone twice their age, I also find such young sexuality alienating , and also such exploration uncomfortable – particularly with an older woman who is not only in a professionally taboo relationship but whose advances are not consensual.
I felt that was film well crafted and enjoyed it enough to watch it again before returning the DVD, but remain unhappy with the ending. I would like Miss G (who curiously never has a full name) to have been given hope; and instead of the insidious Di breaking free, whom I disagree with Jordan Scott – we never fall in love with – I would like downtrodden, more caring Fuzzy (Clemmie Dugdale) to have been the heroine of the story, the one set free to see new horizons.