Oh, my God! I was just about to rip apart Cracks when I started inquiring into the novel it's based upon. Suddenly, I went, "That author's name seems awfully familiar."
Yes, Sheila Kohler, when she was a brunette, was my creative writing teacher, and according to several reviews of her novels, she's done quite well for herself after she recovered from grading my short stories. Note the acclaim for Becoming Jane Eyre.
Ms. Kohler, if I recall correctly, and I do, was a rather refined, reserved presence, who invited the class to her apartment on the final day of the course. The refreshments were abundant. The ambiance, chipper. What a nice lady!
As for her short novel Cracks, Ms. Kohler seems to explain it best on her website:
"When my sister died a violent death 25 years ago in apartheid South Africa, my writing took a new turn. I was driven to explore the reasons for violence within intimate relationships, in particular, the abuse of power and privilege. Since then I have published seven novels, three collections of short stories, and several others not yet collected, all of which focus in some way on this theme. They represent my attempt to delve into the mysteries of hate and anger, and of love and compassion, as well."
You see, the book is about the disappearance of a lovely young woman from an all-girls' school in South Africa in the '60s. Her classmates return to the site of the mystery decades later to recall what occurred.
Adapted by Ben Court, Caroline Ip, and Ridley Scott's daughter, Jordan, who also directed the film, the story has been transported to the '30s and is now situated in England, although filmed in Ireland. Having not read the novel, I can only surmise that the book has been cheapened and oversimplified to such a great degree that nothing remains of the original but its title. How else can you explain why you'll want to bang your head on theater floor during the picture's final thirty minutes?
Warning! I shall now reveal the innermost secrets of Cracks. Do not run your eyes over the rest of this text if you want to be unpleasantly surprised by one of the most misconceived ventures of the past decade.
Plot: A teacher with a possible past, the exotic Miss G (Eva Green), daily inspires her girls' diving team with her tales of lust and her rebellious philosophy towards the unreasonable restrictions placed upon daily living. As she notes, "The most important thing in life is desire." Her charges, especially the tyrannical Di Radfield (Juno Temple), take to heart her every utterance and pose. And Miss G's every command is also obeyed without hesitation, even if it includes swimming au natural in the school's lake late at night.
Considering what could possibly go wrong, all is proceeding exceedingly well among this teen and pre-teen set until the arrival of Fiamma (Maria Valverde), a beautiful, wealthy, Spanish, Roman Catholic who's a top-notch diver suffering from asthma. Miss G, who is slowly revealed as a bit loony, instantly gets the hots for the lass, and rapes her one night after Fiamma has innocently passed out from too much late-night drinking.
A lesbian violator of youth apparently wasn't enough for one film: in order to protect their sultry Führer, Miss G's girls suddenly go Lord of the Flies berserk with the vigor of Amazonians on Red Bull.
It's shocking to learn that such a pro-gay producer as Christine Vachon (e.g. Go Fish, Swoon) is involved in this concrete depiction of every Right Wing fundamentalist's greatest nightmare and fantasy.
Cracks is beautifully shot by John Mathieson and well performed much of the time. One can only assume that no one was intentionally homophobic in the making of this film, only steeped in the absurd, stranded in a dark place, and/or blatantly ignorant of what they were generating.
Hopefully, Ms. Scott will now take some time out to read the late Vito Russo's 1981 classic The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies to realize what a throwback she is to an old-time bigot. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Queer Theater" and "Intro to Mass Communications" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).