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18. Cracks (2009), dir. Jordan Scott

This is one from my Lovefilm list, which various people (can't remember who now) recommended to me because I like Eva Green. It's basically a lesbian love-triangle story set in a private girls' school in the 1930s, which sounded incredibly promising. Unfortunately, though, Eva Green's character is gradually revealed to be self-deluded, neurotic, a rapist and finally a murderer, so it didn't quite deliver the crush-fodder I'd been hoping for.

The film begins with a tranquil enough set-up. Eva Green's character, Miss Gribben, has created for herself the persona of the exotic and beautiful 'Miss G'. She is the gym mistress, and seems to spend most of her time teaching her pupils how to dive from a platform jutting out into the lake in front of the school. She smokes, wears the latest fashions, and tells her adoring pupils wild stories of her travels around the world. One pupil in particular, Di, clearly has a massive crush on her, and Miss G encourages this, lapping up the attention and treating her as a special protégé. It's all very The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. But throughout all those diving lessons, as Miss G urges the girls to take leaps of faith, break free of their shackles and express their spirits, we never see her performing a single dive herself.

Meanwhile, drama enters in the shape of Fiamma Corona, an aristocratic Spanish girl who has been sent away to boarding school in England after a scandal involving a local boy. Fiamma is everything Miss G is not. Confident and sexually experienced, she has genuinely been to the countries which Miss G claims to have visited - but which we soon realise she has not, when Fiamma is able to finish one of Miss G's stories for her because she has read the same account in a book. Fiamma proves to be an excellent diver, performing graceful loops ad turns in the air, and her example pushes the whole team to greater heights of achievement than they could ever have attained from Miss G's teaching alone. But even while Fiamma's presence exposes what I take to be the 'cracks' of the title in Miss G's façade, causing some of the girls to begin doubting her, Miss G herself develops a passion for Fiamma - the flaming icon of everything she idealises and wants to be herself.

It's not going to end well, is it? At first it looked like the main business of the story would be the rivalry between Fiamma and Di, who sees Fiamma as supplanting her in Miss G's affections. But things get much darker than that one evening, when the girls sneak some alcohol into their dormitory, and Fiamma ends up semi-comatose on the floor. Miss G, hearing the noise, catches them at their revels, and offers to 'hide' Fiamma in her office until she is sober, so that the headmistress doesn't find out what they have been up to. In her study, though, she begins declaring her love for Fiamma, kissing her and removing her clothing from her unconscious body - much to the shock of Di, who witnesses this through a(nother) crack in the door.

The next day, Fiamma clearly knows what has happened, and wants to report it to the school, but Di and the other girls, still loyal to Miss G, chase her across the grounds into a secluded ruin, and set upon her as a gang. Under their fists, Fiamma - whom we've already learnt is asthmatic - begins to wheeze and cough. The girls soon back away in fear and call for help from the nearest teacher - who happens to be Miss G. She sends them all running back to the school for reinforcements, and by the time they get back, it is to find Fiamma dying in Miss G's arms. Only we the viewers and Di, who was in the vanguard, see Miss G retrieving Fiamma's inhaler, placed carefully just out of her reach, and putting it back into her hand as though it had been there all along.

Finally, the cracks open wide, as Di makes the decision to tell the headmistress exactly what has happened. But the school of course decides to sweep the shards under the carpet to protect their own reputation. Miss G, now more or less broken, is sent on a leave of absence to think over her sins in a small secluded room somewhere, and that is the end of the matter. BLEAK.

It's an OK film, I guess, and certainly has psychological plausibility and a clear moral compass. The performances are all good, there are some beautifully evocative shots of the girls diving like birds in flight against the sun, and Eva Green looks absolutely smoking hot in her 1930s glamour make-up and wide-leg pants (even if her character does belong more in a prison uniform). But still something about the film as a whole felt a bit thin and flimsy.

Maybe I've seen too many homoerotic boarding-school dramas? Though it is certainly unusual for them to be about women, somehow that very departure from tradition only seemed in this case to show up the limitations of the genre, rather than refresh it. Like, if we're going to drop the highly mythologised and intensely privileged all-male setting, why only go as far as replacing it with a highly mythologised and intensely privileged all-female setting? The traditional dynamics of the set-up aren't really subverted at all by the gender-switch - just shown up - and you end up feeling unsatisfied as a result.

Also, although we do get a few glimpses into Miss G's back-story, I think her character needed a little more unfolding and development before she went completely off the rails. I think for the story to be really effective, we ought to have fallen just a little bit in love with her ourselves before the cracks start showing, or at least to have seen something relatable and human which helped to explain the extent of her self-delusions and the intensity of her emotions. As it is, she just comes across as an unhinged caricature - perhaps precisely because of the unreal setting. If I never really felt any great sympathy for her, despite watching with the primary intention of drooling over her character, then the film is definitely mis-firing somewhere.

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