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It is time to welcome a new member into the Scott family of filmmakers. Ridley’s daughter Jordan Scott has arrived with Cracks, a story about a British boarding school and the activities that occur within, based on a novel by Sheila Kohler. Scott spoke of how growing up in a similar type setting is what led her to want to bring the tale to the big screen; the traditional atmosphere where the establishment itself becomes every student’s world. The girls in the film speak about “home” yet never in detail or with a clear memory as to what they are missing. Many had been sent for a year or less only to find that they were trapped, sent away for the entirety of their youth. Scott really has a handle on the material and gets the aesthetic just right, from the environment, the costumes, the attitudes, and the cliquish superiority complex that comes with an isolated upbringing where your teacher is queen and you her conduit to the little people.

It starts by giving an idea of what life is like at the school through the diving team. Coached by Eva Green’s Miss G, an ex-pupil that stayed on upon graduation, the team has a hierarchy corresponding to the ages of the girls. Led by Juno Temple’s Di Radfield, along with her cohort and lackey Poppy, played by Imogen Poots, the girls rule the school. Radfield most assuredly has a complex and need to be on top—she makes butter, in one instance, at risk of getting in trouble and then puts an underling in her place when the piece of bread given to her is lacking; she got the butter for them so she better have as much as she wants—and therefore becomes threatened when her kingdom is invaded by a Spanish princess. María Valverde’s Fiamma has had some sort of relationship with a boy outside her class system and, as punishment to reform, been sent to the English school. In her mind it’s just a warning and will only last a short time, but she soon finds out that is what all the other girls, there for years, thought at the start too.

Fiamma is the catalyst that shakes things up and turns the school’s tenuous equilibrium upside-down. A threat to Radfield and Poppy, she is also the embodiment of all that Miss G hoped her life would be. Wanting to be the idol of the girls, maybe even staying to teach because it was the only way she could pretend to have lived out her dreams, the stories she tells of her worldly travels soon are proved false by the fact Fiamma can recite the exact words, having read the books Miss G steals from. It’s a fascinating role reversal and mirroring of idolatry when you watch Radfield’s desire to please and ultimately become Miss G trumped by Miss G’s own hope and want to do the same with Fiamma. Here is a grown woman filled with jealousy and vanity, becoming one of her students in mentality and action. The problem with this, however, is the fact that she is a person of power. Able to get her way due to the very fact she is counted upon to watch over these girls, an abuse of her job risks becoming a destruction of trust and a surefire way to destroy her own life as a result.

One must credit all involved for doing a bang-up job at enveloping the audience in this world; imbuing a sense of realism, bringing the past in front of our eyes. Besides the actresses named above, the entire rest of the cast are virtual unknowns, many of whom—the youngsters especially—are just local boarding school students themselves, brought on to perform. Three of the girls actually all went to the same school as well, so everyone involved knew what went into this closed off society; this world governed and policed by its own rules. Jordan Scott wanted it all to have a sense of fairy tale-like splendor, which is why she put it on the island setting she did. Feeling as though in an environment like New Zealand or some other exotic locale, she was able to transport these girls to a new world, one where they were separated from reality and able to live for each other without foreign interference … until Fiamma’s arrival of course.

While the beginning of the film is effective due to its period authenticity and performances, the story itself is somewhat sleight. There isn’t much going on besides some adolescent girl bickering and jockeying for praise and approval with Miss G. By no means is it bad or boring, I just hoped for more conflict and weight, something that does come in towards the end, a little too late though. Once we begin to see how far both Radfield and Miss G will go to win the affections of the person they desire, the stakes do get higher and darker. The tension is ratcheted up and a “Lord of the Flies” type feel seeps in, amping up both the acting and visual style. Scott utilizes the forest and outdoors more here, blocking characters through trees in a foreboding way, letting camera angles and facial expressions speak rather than words. I realize that the opening hour and a half or so is needed to allow for the stellar final twenty minutes, but maybe the danger could have been alluded to earlier. What first just seemed to be conflict between the girls doesn’t open up to the possibility of their teacher’s inclusion until much later on. Ms. Scott definitely has a bright future ahead of her if Cracks is any indication. Much more than the familial pedigree that precedes her, I believe she will be standing on her own as an artist very soon.

Cracks 7/10

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photography:
Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

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