Bad Education

December, 2004, Drama

Directed by:Pedro Almodóvar

Starring:Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Javier Cámara, Petra Martínez, and Leonor Watling

Spain's Pedro Almodovar, maybe the world's breeziest homosexual writer/director, has been providing a window on the gay world for more than two decades. In a series of movies dating back into the early 80's, (Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, All About My Mother, Talk To Me) his warm good humor and distinctive visual style have given straight audiences superb entertainment and much to think about, all of it delivered with a generosity of spirit that often makes his characters both loveable and admirable almost in spite of themselves. As a result, his work instructs as it delights, making any new Almodovar film an opportunity to lift one's spirits. Until now.

Education displays the director's consistent ability to people an interesting story with sharply drawn characters, focused in this instance, on Enrique, a movie director who's offered a story of clerical sexual abuse by Juan, a starving actor and former boarding school classmate. The two haven't seen each other in years, but Juan's vivid tale of priestly seduction--which may or may not be autobiographical--prompts Enrique to turn it into a screenplay which Juan permits on the condition that he’ allowed to play the leading role. As the movie-within-a -movie proceeds to production, Enrique discovers that Juan isn't who he purports to be and the remainder of the film unravels a mysterious set of circumstances that force Enrique--and the audience-- to re-examine what's gone before. In doing so, the film's abuser, his victim and the small circle of those touched by them so many years earlier come to be seen very differently.

The premise is particularly clever and Almodovar fashions it with his typical flair for voluptuous set design and camerawork; (no one frames the opening shot of a scene with a more consistently unique point of view). The cast, headed by Gael Garcia Bernal, (memorable as Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries) is uniformly fine. What's missing here is the empathy so typical of Almodovar's previous work. Whether they're male prostitutes, transvestites or near-necrophiliacs, the director's characters possess such passion for life and willingness to pay the price for its often painful choices that it's hard not to admire and be charmed by them. The men in Almodovar's films do things that range from the socially unacceptable to the totally outrageous, but always with redemptive intent; despite his trademark flamboyance and the randy themes he explores with such gusto, the director is a rigorous moralist, challenging audiences to match his sense of compassion and acceptance for the marginalized members of the human family. 

In Bad Education however, that redemptive vision is totally absent; Enrique, Juan and the priest whose seduction lies at the heart of Juan's story are exposed as venal predators, consistently using one another for reasons the characters in a Jean-Paul Sartre play would be entirely comfortable with. As a result, "Education" emerges as a sophisticated but brittle exercise in cynicism, as remote from this great director's previous work as it is possible to imagine. May it be an abberation is his oeuvre, one quickly to be corrected.            

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