Bad Education

(La Mala Educación)

© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Lluis Homar, Javier Camara, Nacho Perez, Raul Garcia Forneiro, Francisco Boira, Juan Fernandez, Alberto Ferreiro
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Writer: Pedro Almodovar
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for sexual content, adult theme, nudity, language
Running time: 109 minutes

Script – 9
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total Score – 7.9 of 10

Pedro Almodovar is possibly one of the world’s greatest and most beloved Spanish writer-directors. BAD EDUCATION is a tour de force semi-biographical story that offers many sharp bites underneath its glossy, eccentric surface.

Budding director Enrique Goded (Martinez) has a surprise visitor one day: Ignacio (Bernal), who tells him he is his old friend from sixteen years ago. Enrique doesn’t recognize the man before him. The Ignacio he remembers was a sweet, loving, angelic boy. This Ignacio is a beautiful young actor who has written a script, entitled “The Visitor.” He tells Enrique that his name is now Angel, and the story tells of their childhoods, and asks Enrique to consider making the film and cast him as the lead.

Enrique reads “The Visit” with great interest. The story begins when a drag performer Zahara (also Bernal) meets a cute boy at the night club. When the boy passes out on her bed during their rendezvous, she discovers that the boy is really her old crush Enrique Serrano (Ferreiro) when they were both young boys. Zahara remembers their time together at St. John, how they fell in love, and also how he was molested by the tormented Father Manolo (Cacho). Zahara seeks out Manolo and blackmails him.

Back in reality, Enrique is overwhelmed with memories and his love for Ignacio, and is intrigued by “The Visit.” But he’s not convinced that Angel is telling the truth. He returns to their hometown and discovers the true identity of Angel. Not telling Angel he knows the truth, Enrique starts to play a dangerous game of deception. That is, until someone named Manuel Berenguer (Homar) shows up…

Bernal (THE MOTORCYCLE DIARY) once again delivers a bravado performance, playing two utterly different characters: the secretive, sexually ambiguous Angel and the fictional Zahara. He plays Angel with a surface sweetness but you know there’s a dark secret beneath. As Zahara, Bernal dons a long blond wig and a tight dress, and becomes a seductress. He is mesmerizing to watch. Bernal is set to become one of the biggest international stars, the next Antonio Banderas in the making. Martinez (TALK TO HER) is equally good as Enrique. His character is genuine and sensitive, yet weary and suspicious. Martinez handles the complex character very well.

Cacho (INNOCENT VOICES) is wonderful as the tormented, deeply closeted Manolo. His character is severely flawed, yet you can’t help but feel sorry for the man. Homar (SUBURBS) plays the real-life counterpart of Manolo with the same intensity and a touch of creepiness. Camara (TALK TO HER) is hilarious as Zahara’s friend and fellow transvestite Paca. As the young Ignacio, Perez is pure and innocent, and he makes our hearts ache. Forneiro is equally affecting as the young Enrique.

Writer-director Almodovar has weaved an intricate story within a story within a story with BAD EDUCATION. His characters are fascinating, the dialogue snappy, funny and touching, and the plot intriguing. He is able to reveal the complex plot with such clarity that the audience can follow along just fine (even with subtitles). One can only speculate how much is true and how much is fictional in this tale. His characters are never purely good or bad – they’re just human. For example, Fr. Manolo’s internal demon and torments make him a sympathetic figure. The adult Ignacio (Boira) also garners our sympathy, even though his character is not very likeable – it’s because we have his wonderful younger self to root for. We understand what hard roads Ignacio has traveled, so we’re sympathetic of his motives. In fact, every character has clear motives and desires. And that’s why we care about them, what happens to them.

The film also has a tart undercurrent about Catholic schools. By no means (I don’t think, anyway) is Almodovar blasting the religion as a whole, or the hypocrisy of the Church as the evil root. However, there are certain sharp satire wrapped inside this twisted tale, which is made more evident by the film’s “epilogue.”

Almodovar’s film is always luscious to look at. BAD EDUCATION is filmed in gorgeous, vivid colors. Everything jells together and that’s why Almodovar is a master. Every scene has a purpose, and not a frame of film is wasted. The editing is tight and the music is adequate. He draws us in and gives us a slice of that world. The language is scrumptious to listen to. If anything, this film is certainly a good education for anyone who wants to study the fine art of filmmaking.

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