Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/19/07.
Following the back-to-back Oscar-winning success of his films with 1999's Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) and Hable con Ella (Talk to Her). Pedro Almodovar was clearly on top of the world where the latter film, won him an Oscar for Best Screenplay and gave him a nomination for Best Director. Following the success of those two films, Almodovar decided to return to far more personal work that represented his own childhood. Turning to the works of Alfred Hitchcock and film noir, Almodovar released what some called one of his darker films with 2004's La Mala Educacion (Bad Education).
Written and directed by Almodovar, La Mala Educacion is a multi-layered film about a film director who was recently visited by an old childhood friend whom he hadn't seen in years. The friend gives him a script that is based on their own life in Catholic school and their involvement with a priest, who had abused them physically and sexually. A far more complex film than Almodovar's previous work, the film shows the director taking risks into genres as well as his own personal childhood experiences. Starring Fele Martinez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Javier Camara, Lluis Homar, and Leonor Watling. La Mala Educacion is a harrowing yet powerful film from Pedro Almodovar.
It's 1980 as a film director named Enrique (Fele Martinez) is trying to figure out a new project to work on. Arriving into his office is a young man named Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal) who claims to be the childhood friend of Enrique back in school during the early 60s. Calling himself Angel now, Ignacio gives Enrique a script called La Visita (The Visit) where part of the film was inspired by the two men's days in Catholic school as boys and the other part is inspired by Ignacio's life. Enrique reads the story which rings true in some parts.
La Visita tells the story of a drag queen named Zahara (Gael Garcia Bernal) who attracts the attention of a man named Enrique Serrano (Albert Ferreiro). Zahara seduces him only to learn who he really is as he and friend Paquito (Javier Camara) steal Enrique's bike as they figure out what to do next. Going to a church nearby an old school, it is the same school that Zahara's brother Ignacio and his friend Enrique used to go to. In that church and running the service is Father Manolo (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) who was Ignacio's favorite teacher. Zahara tries to talk to Manolo while Paquito steals objects from the service as Zahara later gets into Manolo's office. The discussion became about Ignacio.
Enrique then reads the part that is about his own childhood back in Catholic school. He reads of an unusual attraction between Manolo and the young Ignacio (Nacho Perez) as the two enjoyed each other's company. Manolo was Ignacio's favorite teacher as during a futbol game, Ignacio finds himself the center of attention in front of another student named Enrique (Raul Garcia Forneiro). Ignacio and Enrique immediately become more than friends as they would often sneak out of school to watch the cinema to see Esa Mujer starring Sara Montiel. Then one night as Ignacio was coughing, Enrique followed him where they were caught by Manolo. Manolo expelled Enrique while deciding not to punish Ignacio.
Angel returns to hear that Enrique wants to do the script as his next feature. Angel is interested in playing Zahara though Enrique isn't sure. During a night when the two decided to hang out, Enrique becomes suspicious over a pop song Angel doesn't remember. Things get even stranger when Enrique is wondering if Angel really is Ignacio while Angel decides to take his time to study in being a drag queen with help from a performer named Sandra. Enrique goes to Valencia to meet with Ignacio's mother (Petra Martinez) where he learned that Ignacio had a brother named Juan. The suspicion grows as he learned some truths about Ignacio and a man named Berenguer (Lluis Homar).
After deciding to give Angel the part of Zahara for the film version of La Visita, Enrique moves forward with the film as he changes the ending in which the meeting between Zahara and Manolo is given more dramatic tension with help from another real-life character in Father Jose (Francisco Maestre). During this last day of film, Enrique receives an unexpected visit from Berenguer whose identity is unveiled. There, Enrique learns the dark truth about Juan and Ignacio and what happened in this aftermath.
While the film follows the traditional guidelines of film noir, Pedro Almodovar doesn't entirely follow traditions of the genre. Yet, he uses guidelines to move his story forward while trying to make the audience guess and such. The suspense that Almodovar goes for definitely works in building a momentum for the audience to figure out what's going to happen. While some audiences might be confused into what was fiction and what's real, the ending has a big payoff where the major characters come together. Yet, the film isn't really about child abuse, Catholic schools, cinema, or anything. It's really about a love triangle between two young men and their priest and how fragile the relationship becomes. When Berenguer's story is revealed in relation to Juan and Ignacio, his identity is already known to audience but the aftermath of this relationship becomes very complex and tragic in the end.
Almodovar deserves a lot of credit for telling a personal story of his own childhood in Catholic school by making it into a film noir-like story. While his script and direction isn't entirely perfect, Almodovar's visual language and complex layering of subplots is purely masterful. Even some of the scenes like the futbol scene is done with some wonderful, slow-motion editing and direction to give the sense of poetry to the story. Even the references that Almodovar puts in the film whether it's a couple of movies reveal the roots of where Almodovar gets the inspiration to write this story. In the end, it's the complex nature and haunting approach to storytelling that proves Almodovar's mastery in filmmaking.
Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does some wonderfully, vivacious camera work to bring a lot of style to the film's layered stories. Whether it's the dark intimacy in the stories of Ignacio and Zahara to more colorful schemes in the scenes with Enrique to the more, wider shots of the young Ignacio, young Enrique sequences. Longtime editor Jose Salcedo does some amazing editing to take some of the film's unique plot structure to play with the audience's mind and such. Art director Antxon Gomez and set decorator Pilar Revuelta do excellent work in creating the colorful look of Enrique's home and the differing places the film takes place whether it's the church or the land of Valencia. Costume designer Paco Delgado does some wonderful work in creating the film's clothes, notably a few of the costumes Gael Garcia Bernal wear in drag along with a costume during a performance that was created by Jean-Paul Gaultier. Sound editor Rosa Ortiz does excellent work in creating the suspense of the film, notably a scene where young Ignacio sings Moon River with Manolo.
Longtime composer Alberto Iglesias creates a wonderfully, dramatic score with a harrowing orchestra to create the suspense while using the music of Henry Mancini for the film's opening and closing credits sequence. Standards are also featured along with a pop song that was referenced during the film.
The film's cast is wonderfully assembled that features cameos from Almodovar as a pool man and Hable con Ella's Leonor Watling in a cameo as a wardrobe assistant. Small roles from drag queen Sandra, Petra Martinez as Ignacio's mother, Juan Fernandez as Enrique's assistant Martin, Francisco Maestre as Father Jose, and Francisco Boira as a fictional version of Ignacio are wonderful. Nacho Perez is excellent as the young Ignacio along with Raul Garcia Forneiro as the young Enrique. Alberto Ferreiro is good as the fictional Enrique while Hable con Ella's Javier Camara is very funny as Paquito. Lluis Homar is excellent as the shady, complex Berenguer who reveals his guilt and desperation into the role he played in the mystery. Daniel Gimenez Cacho is excellent as the sympathetic yet troubled Father Manolo in a compassionate yet eerie performance.
Fele Martinez gives an amazing performance as Enrique, the film's protagonist as a man who tries to uncover the truth about his childhood friend. Martinez's performance is very subdued in how he reacts to things while trying to seduce Angel into rekindling their childhood passion. It's a great performance from the Spanish actor. Then there's Gael Garcia Bernal in what has to be one of his essential performances. The Mexican actor truly brings a layer of complexity to the roles he plays in the film. None of the characters he plays are the same nor are they performed in a similar manner. In drag, Bernal truly captures the look and feel of a woman from the way he walked to the way he does his arm movements. In the role of Angel, he acts very shady and with a lot of restraint. There's something that Bernal does that is truly a marvel to watch. It's truly one of his greatest performances that further establishes himself as one of his generations best actors.
Released in 2004 and opening the Cannes Film Festival that same year, the film drew controversy in the U.S. over some of its sexual content. The film received a NC-17 rating though it didn't hurt the film's modest performance in the box office. Yet, some claimed the rating was undeserved that only further the claim that the MPAA was homophobic. Still, the film did give Almodovar more praise but was overshadowed by another Spanish film that same year in Alejandro Amendabar's The Sea Inside, that would win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
La Mala Educacion is a wonderful film from Pedro Almodovar and company. Fans of his work will no doubt consider this as one of his finest while fans of film noir will enjoy his take on the genre. Fans of Gael Garcia Bernal will no doubt, enjoy the young actor's complex performance as it’s a film that definitely challenges its audience. In the end, La Mala Educacion is an excellent, complex film from the great Pedro Almodovar.
Pedro Almodovar Films: Pepi, Luci, Bom - Labyrinth of Passion - Dark Habits - What Have I Done to Deserve This? - Matador - Law of Desire - Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! - High Heels - Kika - The Flower of My Secret - Live Flesh - All About My Mother - Talk to Her - Volver - Broken Embraces - The Skin I Live In - I'm So Excited!
The Auteurs #37: Pedro Almodovar Pt. 1 - Pt. 2
The Auteurs #37: Pedro Almodovar Pt. 1 - Pt. 2
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