Screening at the Audi Festival of German Films this year in Melbourne is Cracks in the Shell, a psychological thriller cum drama about the lengths to which a young actress will go to deliver a truly stunning portrayal of a woman completely outside her own personal experience.
Stine Fisher Christensen is the star of the show here – both in the film and within the narrative – and she is the lynchpin that holds the production together. Young drama student Phine is quieter than her peers and the least obvious choice for that of leading lady. Famous director Kaspar Friedmann (Ulrich Noethen) is producing his latest masterpiece, ‘Camille’ and casts Phine in the lead role to the surprise of everyone working on the production, including Phine herself.
It doesn’t take long before we learn that Kaspar is one hell of an irascible eccentric, and he begins to demand more and more from his star. Phine complies, knowing that this is her big chance, and being more than a little curious of how the other half lives. Egged on by Kaspar, Phine goes above and beyond the call of duty in aid of method acting.
The film is well-crafted, however has the sometimes frustrating habit of editing scenes down to their absolute bare essentials. This is well and good in terms of brevity, but it is frustrating when the audience isn’t told how a certain scene began or how it ended. The characters are suddenly in the same room, halfway through a conversation, and then we leave the room before they finish. Often I genuinely wanted to know how they got there and what happened afterwards.
One thing I loved, however, was the focus on the day to day lives of the thespians. The film portrays the entire cast going through warm up exercises, rehearsals and parties, and is a wonderfully detailed depiction of every aspect of the theatre process.
Cracks in the Shell does have several aspects that don’t quite succeed. It seems to be insinuated that Phine is sexually repressed, yet there is no evidence of that. It’s stated that she’s a virgin (unlike her peers), yet she expresses no fear or trepidation at the prospect of sex (à la similar characters in Teeth or Black Swan). It simply seems that it’s an endeavour not particularly high on her to do list. Kaspar’s characterisation is somewhat lacking also, as he seems no more than a misogynist wanker. There was no ambiguity about this; he is simply a nasty person.
These few – yet crucial – flaws do stop Cracks in the Shell from truly excelling. As a psychological drama and depiction of life in the theatre, it’s an interesting tale. Above all, the performance of Christensen is magnificent. The film doesn’t stack up perfectly against similarly-themed contemporaries like Black Swan, but it’s a decent film nonetheless.Rating: