February 28, 2005

Bad Education

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Pedro Almodovar is the Spanish director who has helmed such hits as Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk to Her and All About My Mother. What all of these films possess is a captivating story filled with characters that are both true and yet unique in their intrigue. His newest film, Bad Education, is surely one of his most layered and, albeit hard to follow, ambitious. The story chronicles two boys, Enrique and Ignacio, whose secret love for one another is simultaneously torn apart and reconstructed by Father Manolo, a priest at the religious school they attended in their early years. The film features Gael Garcia Bernal, whose amazing performances in Amores Perros, The Motorcycle Diaries and Y Tu Mama Tambien are making him the closest thing Spain has ever had to James Dean. Bernal plays the lead as well as the transvestite character in the ‘film within a film.’ Yes, somewhere between this homoerotic love-triangle is a metafilm of magnum proportions. Throw in voyeurism, deceit and identity crises, and you’ve got an unofficial sequel to The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Enrique has grown up to be an up and coming independent director. Ignacio returns one day with a script that chronicles their days together as children along with a fictional act as well. These fictional scene portions are where we see Bernal doing one of the best cross-dressing portrayals since Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think that the general story of children’s hidden affections resurfacing a generation later is an enthralling idea. And the fact that both main characters have become interested in the film industry and are still emotionally involved with a fling of the remote past is even more helpful. But, in trying to attach reality to cinema and pull off what films like Adaptation and Mulholland Drive spend their entire plot covering, Bad Education no doubt becomes a beautiful mess, lost in its ambitions. Combining objects of affection with voyeurism is a combination that plays well into the beautiful mixed emotions of seeing and putting one’s life into a film. Almodovar no doubt finds many instances that work and this film, no doubt, has very personal elements for such a successful film-maker. In the end, the juice just isn’t quite worth the squeeze. Spanning only an hour and forty-five minutes, the film felt like it was longer than The Godfather and had, what I like to call, the Kubrick effect: There were at least a dozen times in the movie that I was convinced we were through. Throw in the subtitles and confusion is at an utter high.

Certainly, the resurfacing of characters and the interweaving of the real and the on-screen portrayals will be further understood with repeated viewings and this film. Close-ups on camera work can be seen at times as a homosexual Boogie Nights. The performances, while experiencing extreme and unjustified tangents for a large portion of the film, are hands down amazing. Bernal is quite possibly the best working actor under thirty. In every film I’ve seen him in, he acts with such naturally powerful portrayals of his characters. Only twenty-six, he has put together quite a resume this early in his life. Almodovar, who is one of Spain’s prides and joys of films, continues his quest of deep and emotionally pulling melodrama. While I was not completely happy with the final concoction of this biopic and homoerotic metafilm, I was no doubt impressed with the ending’s achievement in storytelling.

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Sun Staff Writer