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Bad Education
(La Mala Educacion)

Fans of Almodóvar, rejoice. La Mala Educación is utterly magnificent.

Sorry to gush so immediately, but it must be said upfront. For years, Pedro Almodóvar has dazzled audiences with his unique insight into sordid tales filled with subversive sexuality, double crosses, and most of all, humor. Not necessarily laugh out loud comedic gags, but the type of laughs induced from a feeling of connection of life experiences to those occurring on screen no matter how absurd they may be.

Almodóvar has long asserted that although his films are almost always significantly autobiographical, he insists upon removing himself from the subject matter, leaving his personal experiences only within the characterizations depicted on screen. La Mala Educación, however seems to be much more personal in many regards.

The film centers on a friendship formed during boarding school where sexuality and love are discovered under the abusive tutelage of a Franco-era priest named Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho). Almodóvar has attested that the film is based on a short story he wrote during his time at a similar boarding school where a priest molested some of his classmates. So the film is already far more autobiographical than his previous work, but this isn’t the only aspect of the film that is compelling.

Right off the bat, the film grabs hold with its opening credit sequence and refuses to let go. It’s kitschy, with its Bernard Herrman inspired score and pulp titles, and it totally sets the mood for what is to come. We focus on Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez), a film director seeking inspiration for his next film when he is visited by a long lost acquaintance from school, Ignacio (Gael García Bernal). Ignacio is now an actor, and is seeking a part in whatever project Enrique plans to undertake. He also shares the last story he wrote before giving up the craft with Enrique, as it is based on their time at school together. Ignacio has adopted the name “Angel Andrade” as his stage name and refuses to be called Ignacio anymore.

Enrique promises to read the story, entitled “The Visit,” yet he ushers Ignacio out of his office. Something doesn’t sit right with Enrique in regards to Ignacio. Enrique admits that Ignacio was his first love, but that something has changed and he is no longer the man he loved.

La Mala Educación is elegantly shot in Anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), and in a touching play on format Almodóvar switches to Academy widescreen (1.85:1) whenever showing us the events within “The Visit.” Ignacio’s story tells of the reunion of two old friends who were lovers in school, and the eventually blackmail of the Franco-era priest who molested one of them in school. Enrique is immediately taken with the story and decides to adapt it as his next project.

What ensues is an unfolding tale that grows more and more complex as the film progresses. Complications arise that shed light on Ignacio’s experiences after school and what has brought him to seek out his former classmate and lover. In addition, we are given further insight into the actual mistreatment that occurred in each character’s youth at the hands of Father Manolo. It would be a crime to give away the twists and turns within the story. The subject matter of pedophilia is never an easy topic to explore without risk, but edgy subject matter is nothing new for Almodóvar, and he handles the subject with taste.

Based on the opening credits, the feel that the film would undertake a noir turn was certainly evident. The film loses this somewhere midway, and then when least expected picks it back up in the third act, bringing it full circle. Bernal is phenomenal here, not only in drag, but also in his multiple roles (or are they all one in the same?).

La Mala Educación is a beautifully crafted piece of cinema that is as much about the process of crafting cinema as it is about resolving inner demons and using others for personal gain. For a film dealing with such raw subject matter as transsexuals, child molestation at the hands of catholic priests, and blackmail, it remains remarkably captivating and moving. But then again, it is an Almodóvar film.


Mario Anima

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