Bad Education (Spain ; 109 min.)

directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
starring: Gabriel García Bernal; Fele Martínez; Lluís Homar
La Mala educación
Bruce says: "Because Pedro Almodóvar is so proficient and so accomplished I tend to perhaps expect too much from him. In BAD EDUCATION we see Almodóvar fine-tuning his craft once again, this time turning to suspense and a bit of film-noir. The plot is filled with surprises; it twists, it turns. The characters, however, seem to be more or less in the film to facilitate the plot line. By the end, I did not feel that I really knew any of them well, and what little I knew I did not particularly like. A brilliant film on many levels, it tends to lack one important thing: a soul.

"The film toggles back and forth among several stories showing us the adult lives of Enrique (Fele Martínez), a successful film director, and Ignacio (Gael García Bernal), an aspiring writer; their childhood memories; and the fictionalization of their childhood experience which Ignacio tells Enrique he has written. The villain at the core of each of the stories is Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho). And what a marvelous villain he is. There is nothing this man won’t do to seduce young men, keep them from telling about it afterwards, and protect his past later on.

"Enrique and Ignacio were childhood lovers and neither recovered from the pain of separation when Enrique was kicked out of the school for bad behavior. After escaping the endless unwonted advances of Father Manolo, Ignacio becomes Zahara a saucy drag queen. Add to the mix Ignacio’s brother Juan and all the lives become entangled. It would ruin the experience to reveal too much more.

"Gael García Bernal proves he has the goods to become one of the biggest international stars of the coming decade. Of course, much depends on the roles he chooses. I’m sure he currently is being seduced by most of Hollywood. Fele Martinez gives us a glimmer of a character in conflict but his part is not well written enough to elicit much empathy. That is a shame because I sense he could have delivered the goods had he been challenged with the task.

"The acting, the layering of plot and time, and the set design are superb. The subject is serious yet other films have done a much better job in capturing the tyranny and aftereffects of child abuse. BAD EDUCATION is a mixed bag. While I eagerly await Almodóvar’s films I forget that only one of them has ever received 5 cats from me. 4 cats"

Michael says: "I’m a fan of Pedro Almodóvar’s work. I recall seeing LAW OF DESIRE (the first of this films I saw) in the old Nickelodeon Theatre and being first amazed at the shockingly sexual material I was seeing on screen, and then being delighted by the film. Many more films followed, both new and old, and while some were better, some were not as good, Almodóvar was clearly a filmmaker to be reckoned with.

"In the last five years, critics have really been falling all over themselves praising Almodóvar. Since the release of ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER and TALK TO HER, there has been an almost universal feeling that a sudden, newfound maturity has allowed Pedro to become the master filmmaker that his earlier work was striving toward. While I would agree, technically, Almodóvar simply improves with each film. His sense of design, his choice of shots, his constant evolution of style, are all marks of a truly talented filmmaker. Yet if you ask me, 1988’s WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN is still his best film.

"BAD EDUCATION is a bit of a switch from his recent character pieces. This is Almodóvar’s film noir, and as such, it’s much more about the story than the characters, although no Almodóvar film can truly veer far from the eccentric characters. As a film noir, Almodóvar has it down. From the campy opening credits (always a joy in one of his films) to the double crosses and shocking revelations, BAD EDUCATION is dripping in the genre. Still, Almodóvar puts his spin on the traditionally dark, somber genre by injecting his film with his usual colorful palette.

"To delve too deeply into the plot would spoil elements of the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Suffice it to say BAD EDUCATION revolves around childhood friends/first loves Ignacio and Enrique who went to the same private Catholic school. Ignacio suffers sexual abuse from the principal, Father Manolo and after Enrique leaves the school, the two boys lose touch with one another. Years later, Enrique is a film director searching for a story for his next project, when Ignacio shows up at his office with a story he has written based partially on their childhood. Ignacio has changed a great deal since the boys shared their youth, and from there the film alternates between the past (i.e. the story Ignacio has written) and the present, as secrets and deceptions unfold and the truth is revealed.

"I enjoyed BAD EDUCATION. As I mentioned before, Almodóvar is a talented and creative filmmaker, and his nearly two-hour film flew by. Gael García Bernal (THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES; AMORES PERROS) does some of his best work ever in a multi-faceted role unlike any he has ever tackled. If possible, he is even more attractive than ever, and this film requires him to perform in drag for quite a bit of time, and if possible Bernal is almost as attractive as a woman. Still, in the last third of the film I thought Bernal’s performance was a little uneven. Still, he is maturing into quite a performer and is sure to follow in Antonio Banderas’ international footsteps. I enjoyed Fele Martínez’ (LOVERS OF THE ARCTIC CIRCLE; OPEN YOUR EYES) Enrique even more. His jaded filmmaker finding inspiration in his old friend’s story leads to a suspicion of Ignacio that is natural and well played.

"I didn’t love BAD EDUCATION. There is so much exposition in this film. Almodóvar excels at creating gorgeous, character-driven films. There is so much plot in BAD EDUCATION that the only way to advance the story is for characters to let us know what’s going on. Almodóvar cleverly avoids the “show-don’t-tell” mantra by showing while he’s telling, but it feels a little flat. Bruce put it well when he said the film lacked soul.

"I mentioned LAW OF DESIRE at the beginning of this review because there are many strong similarities between the two films. The stories share a lot of parallels: a film director, questionable identities, a transsexual sibling; a murder. I’m not sure if Almodóvar felt that the story he was trying to tell in LAW OF DESIRE didn’t ultimately succeed, or if he felt that he needed to revisit these themes to tell a new story. Yet while LAW OF DESIRE was also filled with plots and secrets, the story didn’t get in the way of the characters, and the much-needed soul was there.

"BAD EDUCATION gets 3 1/2 cats from me.

Diane says: "I know there was a lot of back and forth about Gael García Bernal's
performance. I will likely give him a nom (must see who his contenders are). He revealed completely different and convincing personas through the film. Great score, too."
Beth C. says: "What I really liked about this film is that they didn't go in for too much formulaic crap, just allowing the characters to be themselves and letting the content of the film elicit emotions. I thought that the best part about the film was that I could truly believe that all the characters loved Ignacio. Each one had a different experience with
him, mostly tragic, but even those who set up the overdose clearly still had a mixture of love, pity, anger, frustration and regret. I think it's difficult for a director to convey such complicated feelings in multiple characters, which is why so many directors cheat and just make the characters SAY what they think. So I was very pleased with this film."
Janet says: "This discussion contains MAJOR SPOILERS. You probably shouldn't read it
until you see the movie.

"I saw this film last night and agree with much of what Michael and Bruce said about it. While I agree that the movie lacked soul, it had some wonderful moments, such as the little boy singing made-up words to 'Moon River' while being preyed upon by the priest. I also loved that the real priest and the movie priest had so much the same attitudes and facial expressions. And I loved Gael Garcia Bernal in drag. (Did anyone else think he resembled Brooke Shields?)

"However, I found one problem with the story that has lingered with me through this morning: what is Juan's motivation for having Ignacio killed? What he gives as a reason, according to the subtitles, is something like, 'What do you think it was like growing up in a small village with a brother like him?' This could be interpreted two ways: What do you think it was like growing up with a gay brother, or What do you think it was like growing up with a brother who was so talented and overshadowed me.

"I'm leaning toward the first interpretation, since Juan seems like he could be homophobic. His involvement in gay sex seems to be of the rough trade hustler variety and is more out of opportunism than lust. He also throws the word 'faggot' around, unless the subtitles aren't translating his words accurately.

"On the other hand, Juan could resent his brother as having been more talented and exciting than he was. First he's the best singer in his school, then he's this (probably very talented) drag queen, and then he writes this great story that Juan may want to get his hands on...

"Either way, I don't see his motivation as being strong enough for the murder to occur. I'd like to hear others' thoughts on this."


Hilary says: **SPOILERS Alert**

"BAD EDUCATION is absolutely in my Top Ten, though I'm not sure my posting (pre-Xmas) came through, since I didn't see it on the Reviews page.

"At any rate, here's my 2 cents:

"I saw Juan as the ultimate opportunist, willing to do anything, sleep with anyone, etc., to get what he wanted. I don't dispute that he made homophobic remarks and was not the most enlightened of characters, but I think that he saw Berenguer and Enrique as opportunities more than an actual men. He knew that if they weren't already attracted to him that he would find a way to become attractive and eventually get what he wanted out of them.

"Juan saw Iganacio as a drain on their family's emotional and monetary resources, esp their mother. I think that he was embarrassed by Ignacio's being a drag queen and a junkie ('living in a small town'), but also jealous of his talent.

"The role of Zahara was both a great challenge as an actor, and an attempt to empathize with Ignacio. I don't think guilt is an emotion that Juan's experiences to any significance, but in his own twisted way, getting Ignacio's story made into a film is his way of making amends with his brother.

"I took Ignacio's 'I have suceeded' to mean that he thought he'd finally gotten (some) revenge against Fr. Manolo/Berenguer, but perhaps I took it too simply."