Bad Education

March 31st, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Starring Gael Garcia Benal, Fele Martinez, Daniel Gimenez Cacho

The Spanish director so revered among his fanbase he’s known only by his surname enjoys a very loyal following. Any mention that you didn’t like one of his films and you’re likely to get more than member of the black turtleneck and latte set scoffing down their noses at you ‘You wouldn’t understand’.

So it’s always interesting to look at the man behind the brand. Like Lynch, Fellini and P T Anderson, it’s simply accepted that everything they point a camera at is singularly brilliant. Even if the fans don’t understand what the hell it’s about, it must be brilliant because he’s been clever enough to trick even them.

And in the greatest tradition of Lynch, Almodovar brings us a story that lulls us into a false sense of security before letting us in on the secret, that the previous scene, one of the characters or even most of the movie has been a dream.

We meet Ignacio (Benal, heading for a Hollywood career any day — Aishwarya Rai style — now that he’s creeping onto the world’s heart throb radar) in two guises. In the first, he’s an actor looking for work who finds his way to the office of film director Enrique. It turns out the two were boyhood friends at the same scary Catholic boys college.

In another, Ignacio is a drag queen whose regular scam to rip off men runs afoul when he realises one of them is the former love of his life.

The two stories continue, several years apart, and if not for the promise of something tantalising or at least dramatic happening, you’d be bored stiff. And like Lynch, that’s Almodovar’s one downfall; for much of the time, you are. The story(ies) being told are far less than the sum of their parts, and you’ll be wishing for something a lot more substantial.

The former Ignacio works his way into Enrique’s confidences — we learn more about both men, particularly their school days when they were each others first love, and the separation that apparently led to a great part of problems both with relationships and identity later in life.

The former has a plan to avenge himself against the priests and teachers who made life hell, tore him from love’s first grip and helped screw his life up. He has a story called ‘the Visit’ (the same story the former Ignacio brings to Enrique promising he can make a film out of it as long as he plays the lead role), which tells all about his life and times, including sexual abuse by his teacher, Father Manolo. For a price, he’ll save the reputation of Manolo and the school by refusing to have it published.

We leave one story and come back to the other most of the way through until the last third, when Almodovar drops his bombshell. From there the story is more clear cut, and settles more into that of the love triangle between three men and the relationships that steadily destroy each in his own way.

All the leads hold a particular dignity about their roles, and Almodovar deserves props for his work in getting performances that speak the life of the characters. He knows how to stage a scene and isn’t afraid to use humour to do so, but the real star here will undoubtedly be Benal, who’ll lose none of his female fan contingent by dressing in drag.

Bad Education has something to say, but it’s different from what perhaps you’ll be expecting, and while that might be a source of disappointment in itself, there’s more than meets the eye.


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