Friday, April 08, 2005

Bad Education

(Dir Pedro Almodóvar, with Gael García Bernal as Ángel/Juan/Zahara, Fele Martínez as Enrique Goded and Daniel Giménez Cacho as Father Manolo. Spanish with subtitles, 2004)

I've been watching Almodóvar movies for years, and this one is quite a departure. For a start, his movies always involve some put-upon long-suffering woman and her twisted relationships. There are virtually no women at all in this movie, and the only relationships of any significance are gay ones. Also, it is a step into the film noir territory (which reminds me - there is a cute wee scene in which two of the characters have time to kill, and find themselves at a film noir week - they come out and think the movies are all about them). The other well known name involved in the movie is, of course, Gael García Bernal (Y tu Mamá También, Amores Perros and the Motorcycle Diaries).

At the centre of the movie is childhood sexual predation. Juan's brother Ignacio has Father Manolo as his literature teacher and school principal - his voice had not broken at that stage, so Ignacio must have been around 10 or 11. That doesn't stop Father Manolo from desiring him and getting hugely jealous when Ignacio falls for his school friend, Enrique. The good father's response is to get a promise from Ignacio to do whatever is wanted if only Enrique is not expelled.

Almodóvar, however, goes for a fairly complicated structure and makes the movie be much more than simply about child abuse. The movie starts with an adult Enrique, now a film maker, one who is struggling to come up with an idea for a film. In comes "Ignacio" with a story he's written, partly of their childhood and partly an invention of what might have happened. There's a sort of flash-back, in that the movie then picks up the fictional part of the story - Zahara is a female impersonating cabaret singer who, with his mate, isn't too concerned about the moral problems associated with going home with a punter and robbing him. Zahara is in the process of doing this (after a cute scene in which her punter falls asleep in the middle of receiving a sexual favour) when he realises it is Enrique.

This then prompts a further flashback, back to when he and Ignacio were school boys - we get to see their love, and the dodginess of Father Manolo. So far so good - but then the story develops a fair few twists and turns, I really don't want to give the game away and saying any more would do that. One thing I can say - the movie gains an extra layer of time. Enrique is busily shooting a movie of this story - using the same characters and sets as we have seen in the flash back, when in walks the real Father Manolo - a pretty tragic figure by this stage. But he is morally bankrupt throughout - Ignacio is not the only fellow he goes after. And I guess I can say there's some nice blackmailing going on, a murder, drugs, quite a bit of shagging, identity swaps and a fairly hard to accept inability on the part of the other characters to see through the disguieses adopted. It's quite a ride!

For those interested in such things, there is a fair amount of a nude Gael García Bernal to be seen in this movie. Heh - what a surprise. For those who are not, he is still very much worth watching - he has to play several roles in the movie and is clearly its star, around whom the other characters only really had bit parts to play. The other standout feature is the filming - the movie starts with a very cool series of splash screens, largely made of red, black and white and I've seen the cinematography described as "luminous" elsewhere - certainly, there are plenty of earth tones, its a very warm movie.


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