Almodovar teaches haunting lesson in ‘Bad Education’

Jason A. Michael
By | 2018-01-16T15:28:38-05:00 May 2nd, 2003|Uncategorized|

First off, I should warn you that I’m not an Almodovar expert. I’ve only taken in a few of the dozen or so of his films that have had American theatrical releases, so my frame of reference for his past works is limited to that. For example, I would not have known that “Bad Education” was Almodovar’s first attempt at a film noir had I not overheard the reviewer for another Metro Detroit weekly remark on this matter. Likewise, had he not also commented that the plot structure in this film was far more complex that Almodovar’s past efforts, I wouldn’t have known that either. (But I’m glad I did happen to overhear these things so I could include them herewith and in mentioning them as I did so avoid a possible claim of plagiarism.)
Looking at “La Mala Educación” solely for what it is and not as a culmination of Almodovar’s works to date, one word keeps returning to my mind as I try to sum it up. Disturbing.
In films, as opposed to in life, it’s good to be disturbed. It means that the film has succeeded in evoking powerful emotions, that it has forced you to consider realities you otherwise wouldn’t have given the time of day. In the best of gay cinema, the tour guide for this exploration is always a stunningly beautiful boy and, thankfully, that technique is indeed employed here. Gael Garcí­a Bernal as, at alternate times, Angel, Juan and Zahara, remains a joy to watch even as his on-screen actions enter the realm of the horrific. (It’s not at all hard to see why he was voted one of People en Español’s 25 Most Beautiful People in 2002.)
It’s hard to say anything about “Bad Education” without giving away too much of the plot. And I concur with my colleague that the plot twists here were plentiful.
The film is centered on Ignacio and Enrique (Fele Martinez), two schoolboys whose budding love is soon snipped by the principal of their parochial boarding school, Father Manolo. The priest is a pedophile whose feelings for Ignacio run even deeper than Enrique’s.
The film jumps back and forth between their prepubescent affair, a chance meeting between the two in the late 70s and the present setting of the film, 1980. Enrique, now a successful film director, receives a surprise visit from Ignacio, whom he scarcely recognizes. Ignacio, who now calls himself Angel, has become an actor and presents Enrique with an autobiographical story about their days at school. The young director is transported back in time while reading it and soon decides the story will be his next film project, the masterpiece he had long been looking for.
While Almodovar admits there are elements of his life story in the film, he remains insistent that “Bad Education” is not the telling of his own days at parochial school.
“Of course my memories were important when it came to writing the script,” he said. “After all, I lived in the settings and in the periods in which it takes place. [But] “Bad Education” is not a settling of scores with the priests who ‘bad-educated’ me or with the clergy in general. If I needed to take revenge I wouldn’t have waited 40 years to do so. The church doesn’t interest me, not even as an adversary.”
If the priest as a pedophile sounds like an overused metaphor at the moment, fear not, for Almodovar succeeds in never making that part of the plot feel clicheé. “Bad Education” is richly layered, and in between the darkness that pervades this film there are several sheets of light. The film is colorful and, at times, highly humorous, but at the end it remains haunting, as I suppose any good film noir should. Hours after I’d left the screening I still continued to see the faces of this film in my mind – and not just Gael García Bernal’s, either.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.