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    Bad Education

    All about my "father"

    Pedro Almod—var loses his sense of humor — but finds a fitting leading man in Gael Garcia Bernal — in "Bad Education," his earnest expose of priestly abuse and its drag-queen survivors.


    Once the enfant terrible of Spanish filmdom, Pedro Almodovar has reached the ripe middle-age of 55 (gather those rosebuds!!!), and garnered his third NC-17 rating for his latest film, "Bad Education."

    Original title: La Mala Educaci—n.
    Written and directed by: Pedro Almod—var.
    Cast: Gael Garc’a Bernal, Fele Mart’nez, Daniel GimŽnez Cacho, Llu’s Homar, Javier C‡mara, Petra Mart’nez, Nacho PŽrez, Raśl Garc’a Forneiro, Francisco Boira, Juan Fern‡ndez, Alberto Ferreiro, Roberto Hoyas, Francisco Maestre, Leonor Watling.
    Cinematography: JosŽ Luis Alcaine.
    Edited by: JosŽ Salcedo.
    Music by: Alberto Iglesias.
    In Spanish with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    NY Film Festival 2004
    íˇ‚ Overview

    íˇ‚ Bad Education
    íˇ‚ House of Flying Daggers
    íˇ‚ Infernal Affairs trilogy
    íˇ‚ Look at Me
    íˇ‚ Notre Musique
    íˇ‚ Or (My Treasure)
    • Sideways
    íˇ‚ Tarnation
    íˇ‚ Triple Agent
    íˇ‚ Undertow
    íˇ‚ Woman Is the Future of Man
    íˇ‚ The World

    íˇ‚ Official site
    During the near-quarter century of his career, we've looked to him for cinematic social and sexual experimentation, as he's changed and grown in ways that have not always pleased the critics. Of course, in his own colorful, potty-mouthed bi-lingual terms, he's let the world know that he couldn't care less. And why should he?

    Almodovar single-handedly revived Spain's cinema after Generalissimo Franco's long, drawn out life and death in '75. Well, Franco's still dead and Almodovar is still making subversive films, filled with sexual (whether bi-, gay and/or trans-) as well as anti-clerical elements in a Catholic country.

    Although he swears his latest film is not an attack on the Catholic church, "Bad Education" is the love story between two young boys and the Catholic priest who lusts for one of them. His latest NC-17 (he also received the punitive rating for "Tie Me Up/Tie Me Down" and "Kika"), was awarded for a head-bobbing fellatio scene between two men (or was it really because of the priest factor?).

    Using a film-noir prism to refract multiple story lines, Almodovar invades Hitchcock territory with a Bernard Herrmann-esque score by Alberto Iglesias. Not a totally new direction, since he already dabbled in film-noir techniques with "Live Flesh" in 1997. But have any of his films really gone in new directions or merely continued synthesizing his ongoing concerns and interests?

    Bad Education  
    Like the love-child of John Waters and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Almodovar's initial series of screwed-up, screwball comedies upended traditional mores and morals. Besides a series of shorts he began in 1974, at the tender age of 25, his career output — 15 feature films in 24 years — really started with "Pepi, Luci and Bom," his first full-length in 1980. That zany romp exploded on the screen replete with sado-masochistic lesbian punk rockers, a bored bearded lady and what would become his signature — drag queens.

    Films like "Dark Habits" (long before Whoopi's night-club singer hid out in a convent) featured his extraordinary rotating rep company including Marisa Paredes, Carmen Maura and Cecilia Roth. "Laws of Desire" (one of the five he made with Antonio Banderas) and "Kika" (with its humorous rape scene!) consolidated the Spanish auteur's reputation. He continuously scandalized the bourgoisie, even as he tickled more jaded International fancies.

    By 1988, he began to mine a darker, more serious vein of human comedy in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." And his work began to mature in unexpected ways when he married melodrama to his signature interests. (One critic dubbed him "a melodrama queen," a title he bears proudly.) "Flower of My Secret" in 1995, took on the worlds of Spanish reality TV and soap opera in super-melodramatic terms.

      "If I needed to take vengeance upon them [the priests who 'miseducated' me], I wouldn't have waited forty years to do it."
      — Pedro Almod—var
    "Live Flesh," starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, was a psychological study of paraplegia and sexual obsession, with few if any laughs. "All About My Mother," his first Oscar winner, reunited the distaff trio from "Dark Habits" in a moving discourse on the nature of family and actresses of both sexes, while "Talk to Her," his second Oscar (for script), concerned two women — a bullfighter and a ballerina, each in a coma — and the balding men who love and care for them.

    Now comes, "Bad Education," the film considered by some to be Almodovar's most mature and autobiographical to date. Separated after their youthful romance, the two young boys, Enrique and Ignacio, grow up. Enrique (Fele Martinez) becomes a writer/film maker, while Ignacio (the ubiguitous Gael Garcia Bernal) becomes an actor.

    The boys haven't seen each other again until the film begins. Enrique needs a story idea real bad — he's poring over the papers "Law & Order" fashion for an idea when first seen. And Ignacio brings him a doozy, a script based on their own lives as young boys together in the Catholic school. It specifically concerns the priest, Father Manolo (Daniel Giminez-Cacho), who broke up the boys' friendship before succumbing himself to both Ignacio's beauty and his sweet singing.

    But the adult Ignacio, who is neither who nor what he seems, changes the real ending in his script. Ignacio has almost too many secrets to either contain or impart. And if the character of Enrique reminds us of Almodovar — the year is after all, 1980, the actual year of his first feature — the auteur disclaims any similarities.

    In his voluminous press notes, he writes, "If I needed to take vengeance upon them [the priests who 'miseducated' him], I wouldn't have waited forty years to do it." Nevertheless, the storyline does overlap with the timeline of Almodovar's own life, no matter how colorless the character of Enrique or Martinez's performance is by comparison to the real thing.

    Bad Education  
    None of Almodovar's great female roles — whether on the verge or in a coma — surface in "Bad Education." Rather, they are merged with his great transvestite roles, so that Bernal plays not only Ignacio, but also a drag queen named Zahara — the best male and female roles in the film. That the doe-eyed actor is equally dishy in both parts is simply proof that Almodovar has finally found a worthy successor to Banderas. (And yes, Bernal DOES resemble Julia Roberts when in drag — it's that gorgeous mouth!!!)

    The film's relocation to noir-land has so many twists as well as cinematic references to other films and actresses (including Zahara's ideal, Sarita Montiel) that it's overwhelming. But as he has done so often, Almodovar samples film clips the way some American directors use pop music — to evoke emotion, rather than create it organically in the writing. And he's even taken to quoting himself at this point.

    In the 1986 "Matador," a particularly melodratic portrait of love, death and fate, the killer Diego jerks off to slasher films. In "Bad Education," the two boys jerk each other off in a movie house showing some film starring the sexy Sarita. Later we see actual scenes from "Breakfast at Tiffany's," as well as such great noir classics as "Double Indemnity" and Hitch's "Vertigo." In sum, there's a hell of a lot of sampling, but is it homage or imitation?

      As he has done so often, Almodovar samples film clips the way some American directors use pop music — to evoke emotion, rather than create it organically in the writing. And he's even taken to quoting himself at this point.
    Javier Camara, the balding nurse from "Talk to Her," is a hoot as Zahara's best girlfriend/tutor/muse and Cacho's priest is not what we might expect, but other than Bernal's multi-star turn, the acting in "Bad Education" tends to the bland and predictable — two adjectives I never expected to use in a review of an Almodovar film.

    Of course, "Bad Education" has moments of exquisite filmmaking — how could it not? But they come as much from set design, gaudy costumes and color palette as from story line. If he's going to continue to use cinema to make cinema, let's hope he actually uses some of his own footage. It may jar him back to that original outrageousness that we know and love.

    NOVEMBER 28, 2004

    Reader comments on Bad Education:

  • Critic done in Rome...   from Adhemar, Dec 11, 2004
  • Weak comment from Leslie Blake   from Adhemar, Dec 11, 2004
  • La Mala Educaci—n   from Kieran, Jan 16, 2005
  • I love it   from kleio, May 28, 2005
  • love   from marc, Oct 13, 2005

  • Post a comment on "Bad Education"