Bad Education

aka LA MALA EDUCACION

Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez, Francisco Boira, Javier Camara
Director: Pedro Almodóvar

A transsexual junkie, a paedophile priest-turned-literary-agent, drag queens, a gay film director suffering from writers block, a pair of homo-erotic school children, not to mention murder, rape, blackmail, and prostitution … it can all mean only one thing – Pedro Almodovar is back, louder and bolder than ever, and very much at the peak of his powers.

After a slick Hitchcockian opening credit sequence, heralding Almodovar’s return to film noir after 1997’s LIVE FLESH, we find ourselves in Madrid, 1980. Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez), a young filmmaker, is searching for material for his next film. Out of the blue he is paid a visit by Ignacio Rodriguez (Gael Garcia Bernal), a school friend that Enrique has not seen for 16 years. Ignacio is a jobbing actor desperate for work and he leaves Enrique a short story with the slight hope that Enrique will want to turn it into a movie.

The director reads the story later on that night and we are given a visual representation of the story by Almodóvar. The story, called ‘The Visit’ turns out to be mostly autobiographical, recounting the affair that Ignacio and Enrique had as young school boys, as well as the abuse that Ignacio suffered at the hands of Father Manolo. From here things start growing very complicated. In true film noir fashion the plot twists and turns and nothing is as it appears.

BAD EDUCATION is another wild flight of fancy from Almodóvar. There are many features of Almodóvar’s distinctive body of work which critics single out for praise, but what always impresses me the most is Almodóvar’s skill as a storyteller. His stories, BAD EDUCATION being a prime example, usually start from nothing and gradually build up in complexity and intensity until they grow into an insanely complex tapestry of Spanish life, as full of incident and as thickly populated with oddball characters as Balzac’s France or Dickens’ England. Almodóvar’s films tend to grow ridiculously frenzied and bizarre at times, and yet his tales always remain credible. Each scene follows on logically from the previous one, and despite the characters invariably being somewhat strange, their actions are always understandable and plausible. One is not left thinking, as is the case with some dramas, ‘Why did that character do that? He/ she never would have done that.’

Another feature of Almodóvar’s work, which never fails to impress, is his feel for colours and textures, which heighten the allure of his stories. In BAD EDUCATION most scenes have their own bold colour scheme (blue for the school toilets, orange for the cinema, red for the Pearl bar). As for textures, the camera soaks up the sensational dress that Gael Garcia Bernal wears when we first see him as a drag queen. The camera also caressingly films other items of clothing – a frilly scarf of another drag queen, the vestments of a priest, even Ignacio’s Y-fronts. If you can stomach massive servings of sexual perversity and campness then definitely give BAD EDUCATION a go.

6 out of 6 stars

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