That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

Bad Education (La mala educación)

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007 9:16 pm—Film

Bad Education (Spain 2004, Drama/Thriller), Writer/Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Bad Education is the second Almodóvar film I’ve seen (I rented All About My Mother several years ago), but I’ve heard so much about the writer/director lately that I feel as though I’ve seen more. I’ll have to make that happen.

This post is at BD’s request, as I’m getting the feeling will be the case with many upcoming posts. Although if anyone else is out there reading my blog, please feel free to submit film requests of your own.

From the opening credits, you get the idea that things in Bad Education will not be as they seem. I honestly can’t remember the opening credits from All About My Mother, but the stylized and sinister title sequence wasn’t what I was expecting from the opening of a sensitive Pedro Almodóvar film. The rapidly changing graphics accompanied by jarring music reminded me of the opening credits for a modern-day Hitchcock movie or jazzed-up film noir.

This is, in a way, an apt description of Bad Education. It’s a dark labyrinth of a thriller that catches you off guard more than once. Almodóvar reportedly spent over a decade building the story structure, which, as a fledgling filmmaker, makes me feel better; the story is so clever and complicated, the characters so richly developed, that it’s comforting to know Bad Education isn’t one of those scripts that was whipped up in a matter of days (like, say, Rocky).

Ignacio (Gael García Bernal), an actor looking for work, brings a script (called The Visit) to his long-lost love and former classmate Enrique, now a film director. The script is part fact, based on their formative years at the all-boys Catholic school where they fell in love, and were sexually abused by Father Manolo; and part fiction, detailing Ignacio’s imagining of his future encounters with Enrique. Bad Education cuts between present day, the boys’ time at school, and The Visit, the film within the film, which Ignacio and Enrique eventually begin shooting. The Visit stars Ignacio, or Ángel as he is now known, as transgender Zahara, which further complicates matters and adds to the film’s complex fabric of interwoven lives—and lies.

More than anything else, Bad Education is about self-deception and unfulfilled love—desperate people using desperate means to fill a void that can’t possibly be filled. It reminds me of a line from Sheryl Crow’s Strong Enough: “Lie to me, I promise I’ll believe.”

Except for the love Ignacio and Enrique share as young boys, every relationship in Bad Education is destructive and one-sided: Father Manolo and his sick obsession with Ignacio, and later, with Ingacio’s brother, Juan; an older Enrique trying to recapture what he and Ignacio had in their youth. There are many more examples, but it’s hard to go into detail without giving away too much about the plot. Suffice it to say that the story and its characters continuously pile one lie on top of another: they lie to each other, to themselves, and to the viewer.

Bad Education is very moving. It has slow, reflective moments and incredibly beautiful, passionate ones. Those that feature Zahara’s scenes from The Visit are especially touching. Bernal is an extraordinary actor with astonishing depth and range (not to mention almost unbelievable beauty). He gives himself completely to a role that ends up being even more multi-faceted than you realize at the beginning of the film.

Surprisingly, I didn’t find the scenes with Father Manolo and the young Ignacio as upsetting as I expected. What was more disturbing, and sad, is the impact that Father Manolo’s abuse has on the boys throughout their lives. It creates in them a disconnect that plays a big part in their inability to find happiness as adults, and sends them chasing after destructive, sometimes dangerous fantasies.

The film ends with Enrique finally learning the truth about the lies around him. As he shuts the door on the deception that has informed his life, closing text tells us what becomes of some of the film’s main characters. Enrique, we learn, “is still making films with the same passion.” With all Bad Education’s interplay between life and art, it makes you wonder how much of the film is autobiographical, especially when you consider that, as a child, Almodóvar was sent away to study at a religious boarding school. And, like Ignacio and Enrique, Almodóvar survived by escaping into the world of movies. In his words, “Cinema became my real education, much more than the one I received from the priest.”

Bad Education is a brilliant, poignant film with exceptional writing, directing and acting. I recommend it—and, by extension, any of Almodóvar’s films—to anyone who appreciates fine filmmaking. That said, it isn’t for everyone. It’s upsetting and features several explicit sex scenes (it’s hard to call them love scenes, given the selfish nature of most, if not all, of them). If this sort of thing bothers you, I recommend trying to find the theatrical release instead of the uncut NC-17 version I saw.

If you’re homophobic, I highly recommend you see this film. If you open yourself up to it and let the characters in, maybe you’ll realize that, of all the terrible things people do to each other, loving someone isn’t one of them.

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