La Mala educación
Review by Leo Goldsmith
Posted on 18 November 2004
Source Sony Pictures Classics 35mm print
“It’s as if the films were talking about us,” says a character towards the end of Pedro Almodóvar’s new film, Bad Education. The dialogue between art and life, between fantasy and reality, finds its way into all of Almodóvar’s films and Bad Education is no exception. The film employs the director’s usual visual tricks, ecstatic set design, and intricate plotting to blur the divide between the real and the imagined, the worlds of daily life, of memory, and of movies.
Fele Martínez plays Enrique Goded, a hot young Spanish filmmaker in the early 1980s whose plot ideas and sense of interior design mark him as a kind of Almodóvar surrogate. Gael García Bernal plays Ignacio, Enrique’s childhood friend and first love who visits the young director in hope of work as an actor. At the film’s outset, Ignacio brings Enrique an old short story he has written, a partial fictionalization of their Catholic school days together and the abuse they suffered at the hands of one of the priests.
But as the two old friends begin to collaborate on a film version of Ignacio’s story, it becomes clear that not all is as it appears. Ignacio is not the same boy that Enrique remembers from his youth—nor is he quite the man he presents himself to be. Almodóvar’s film plays with the boundaries of fiction and reality (with at least two films within the film) and with the doubling of identities through gender switching, role-playing, and cross-dressing (García Bernal makes a very attractive woman as he impersonates ‘60’s Spanish movie-star Sara Montiel).
But for all of its post-Rashomon convolutions, Bad Education is no smart-ass, postmodern exercise (nor is it a hot-button indictment of the Catholic Church). Rather it is sentimental, passionate, moving, and purely Almodóvarian. Part childhood romance, part film noir, part A Star is Born, the film delights in the interplay of surfaces and identities, the painful, shifting masquerade of art and life.