Young Spanish filmmaker Enrique (Fele Martinez) is paid a surprise visit by a young man (Gael Garcia Bernal) who claims to be his childhood friend from primary school, now looking for work as an actor. He goes by the stage name of Angel but Enrique knew him as Ignacio - his first lover. Angel has also written a screenplay, The Visit, which Enrique finds engrossing - a story based on their experiences at a Catholic school in the early 70s, where Fr Manolo (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) lusted after Ignacio. As Enrique shoots the film, the flashbacks reveal a more complicated story, as the lives of all concerned are unravelled.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Bad Education is a surprise - and perhaps that's why it was chosen to open the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and not in competition. It's a surprise because some of the Almodóvar melodrama trademarks are muted, although the film does toss the audience from noir to pastel with the bravura of a filmmaker certain of his material. Adroitly written and made with great, powerful strokes, Bad Education is also a surprise in its restraint around the very subject that forms the heart of the story, namely the experience of young boys at a Catholic school, where the conflicted Fr Manolo yearns painfully with illicit love for his charges.
The structure of the film is fascinating, not so much for the film within a film device, which is handled with a seamless set of transitions (including altering the aspect ratio) but for its story telling mechanics. Almodóvar sets up the characters and the flimsy excuse for their meeting with such verve that we are blinded to the sleight of hand he pulls with Gael Garcia Bernal as the pivotal character in both the real story and the filmed story.
And what a sensational performance Bernal delivers, underplaying both his roles, first as Juan or Angel, and then as the tempestuous drag queen, Zahara, made up and dressed to look a million cheap dollars.
As is expected from Almodóvar, our emotions are almost always in top gear as he drags us through the torrid streets of the human condition, but with Bad Education there is also a deep undercurrent of loss and pain, almost intangible and near-invisible below the surface.
This mood is emphasised and reflected by an assertive and mesmerising score from Alberto Iglesias, somehow managing to weave together the film's two distinct moods: noir and vibrant. The film begins in the latter mood, and there are plenty of naked bodies, especially male bottoms, on view, although all these are shot with a visual imperative, rather than any emotional impact.
The film demands concentration and the last act requires a transfer of association from the character of Fr Manolo to the man he has since become. This can be a bit of a stumbling block for some, but the drama carries us through it.
Bad Education is not a cheap shot at Catholic priests fumbling young boys: it's more about the tragedy of a broken first love between two boys, and how they went their different ways. Almodóvar juggles complex and conflicting subject matter as he digs into his own youth, and it's that messy nature of life which he tries to capture in a film that avoids judging its characters. They are what they are, each with their own imperfections and regrets.
Review by Louise Keller:
Inventive, brash, sexually provocative and occasionally shocking, Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education is an audacious and dazzling foray into the complexities of life, sex and the Catholic Church. If you know and love Almodovar's work, you will rush to see this, his most personal film, although not strictly auto-biographical. There was a buzz in the auditorium at Cannes when I saw the film, a fitting opening to the 2004 Festival.
It is impossible to be bored by Bad Education, due to the way the plot lurches at such sharp angles; we need every ounce of grey matter to keep abreast of the characters and events. The twists are breathtaking and nothing prepares us for the final turn of events. While the underlying theme of child molestation is a serious one, we are kept off balance by the relentlessly lively way the lighthearted is pitted against the serious.
Gael Garcia Bernal delivers a phenomenal performance in his various guises, and if the crowd adulation in Cannes and the giant poster headshot plastered everywhere for the film's opening at the festival is any indication of his superstar status, Barnal has well and truly arrived. The camera simply adores him, and in drag with lashings of makeup and long wig, Bernal is considerably more stunning than many Hollywood starlets after a make-over.
Fele Martínez' role is less showy, but he wonderfully portrays the film director whose heart is still vulnerable to his first lover. I love the scene at Enrique's home after he has invited Ignatio to stay, when they go for a dip in the pool. Enrique strips off, dives in and waits for Ignatio to do the same. We can sense his expectation - and so can Ignatio.
The issue of child-molestation is handled by implication rather than graphically, and Daniel Gimenez Cacho's Manolo is haunting. We see Manolo in a similar light as seen by the boys, as if from their point of view. Almodovar's themes are as provocative as ever, the characters bold and colourful. Definitely not for the prudish, Bad Education is sexually adventurous - some may consider it perverse - and an outlandish and satisfying example of superb storytelling from a master of his trade.
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BAD EDUCATION (MA)
(La mala educacion)
CAST: Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez, Francisco Boira, Javier Camara, Juan Fernandez, Alberto Ferreiro, Raul Garcia Forneiro, Daniel Gimenez Cacho
PRODUCER: Augustin Almodóvar, Pedro Almodóvar
DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar
SCRIPT: Pedro Almodóvar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jose Luis Alcaine
EDITOR: Jose Salcedo
MUSIC: Alberto Iglesias
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Antxon Gomez
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 24, 2005 (special advance screenings Mar 18 - 20)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: August 8, 2005