Friday, March 18, 2011

School for Scandal: Cracks

When “Miss G” speaks of “her girls” it is always in quite possessive terms. Then a new student arrives and all bets are off. Sort of like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie with a smidge of Lord of the Flies and the occasional flash of nudity, there is indeed plenty of suggestive melodrama on tap in Jordan (daughter of Ridley) Scott’s Cracks (trailer here), which opens today at the IFC Center.

Miss G’s girls are on the diving team of a remote (presumptively British) boarding school for wealthy but difficult young ladies. They practice regularly, but never compete. However, the red sash they wear allows them to rule the roost. Di Radfield is first among equals, Miss G’s favorite and the de facto head girl. She returns her teacher’s affection several-fold. However, the arrival of the new girl threatens to destabilize their world.

The daughter of Spanish aristocrats, Fiamma is a better diver than Radfield. She has also traveled widely. Miss G is quickly taken with her new charge, but Fiamma recognizes a big fat phony when she sees one. Having none of Miss G’s thinly veiled lesbian overtures, Fiamma inspires mucho jealousy in Radfield. As Miss G’s behavior becomes more erratic, team spirit deteriorates drastically. Tragedy seems inevitable, but at least there is a skinny-dipping scene.

Headfort School in Ireland (Kells, County Meath) is insanely photogenic. It is often more interesting than the girls’ little dramas. Frankly, Miss G never seems believable. Even before Fiamma arrives, the New Age platitudes she drops, like “desire is the most important thing in life,” would even set off alarm bells with a free spirit like Miss Brodie.

If Miss G’s character is a little off, Eva Green is not up to selling it. In fact, she makes her condescending motivational speeches rather cringe-inducing affairs. That might be part of character, but it makes it difficult to credit the fondness her students initially feel for her. However, Juno Temple still manages to scratch out an intriguing arc of character development as Radfield.

A first class production, Cracks boasts some eye-catching period costumes from Allison Byrnes and a classy Merchant-Ivory looking sheen courtesy of cinematographer John Mathieson. Given its striking locales and occasional naughty bits, Cracks is essentially a film to look at rather than think about. Diverting in a half-lurid way, it opens today (3/18) in New York at the IFC Center.