[An old post]
Internal and external identity changes provide the fuel for Pedro Almodvar's Bad Education (La Mala Educacin). If in the opening sequence, an aspiring actor named Ignacio (Gael Garca Bernal), who prefers to be called ngel, clamors to play the part of a transvestite named Zahara in the film within the film which is based on his script "la visita" and chronicles the experiences he had with his friend Enrique (Fele Martnez) while at school, then at the end, Ignacio, or was it ngel, is Juan, who just happens to be Ignacios brother. But that's not all. Throughout the film, many "visits" take place between various characters, allowing one's standing in front of the other to be challenged before it's negotiated. All are driven by their own desires, and thats what puts them in danger.
Almodvar has extensively spoken about his love for "film noir," so it's not surprising to see it being employed alongside his own strengths. However, how much he truly understands the subtle textures of this genre is still an open question. For example, the walls of the apartment where his "characters" reside may not reveal much about the lives of the inhabitants, but Almodvar cant help it, and goes for the overkill, though, as usual, he doesn't forget to decorate them likes a drags face. Also, he has his "characters" catching a noir in the theater in order to kill time, who afterwards discuss the similarities between the film and their own lives. Its playful at first, but gets a little tiresome after a while. Though nothing takes away from his formal techniques: the quick cutaway of Juan (Bernal) from outside his apartment window is just as brilliantly executed as the panning shot around the swimming pool which ends with Ignacio (Bernal again) standing under water.
The film is partly set around the time of Francos suffocating regime, which allows Almodvar to compare and contrast between the before and after. If the church and the politics associated with it repressed growth, then cinema enlightened and liberated the minds. In other words, cinema is a religion itself --as it does what a religion should-- and Bad Education is out to adjudicate. But, to his credit, Almodvar doesn't simply wallow in his strong personal feelings about the abuse that many suffered through. Instead of showcasing the acts to win audience sympathy, he has focused his film on the aftermath, and how affected the lives of everyone involved became. He has a unique talent of illuminating the darkest of storylines and he has done the same here.
Gael Garca Bernal as Ignacio/Juan/Zahara is phenomenal. Most will probably get a kick out of him as Zahara, the transvestite; for me hes best as Juan, who starts out as a naivet but slowly turns the screws on Mr. Berenguer (the priest). Fele Martnez as the director (Almodvar's surrogate?) is also very good. However, the film could've done without Javier Cmara's Pequito (transvestite/ Zaharas best friend), as many of the lines are recycled from the directors previous work and dont quite apply here. While Bad Education is a lesser film than Almodvar's previous two, All About My Mother (1999) and Talk to Her (2002), it's on par with his mid-90s work, even though it's a bit more polished and carries much more of a mass-appeal.
*Available on DVD in the U.S. (Sony) / U.K. (Fox) / Spain