December 27, 2004

MOVIES: Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar, 2004)

At the beginning of Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education, we meet Enrique (Fele Martinez), a rising young film director searching for inspiration for a new project. He is visited by Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal), a childhood school friend. The boys were only 10 or 11 when they were in school together, and it's been some 15 years since, during which time they have not been in touch.

Ignacio is now an actor, begging for a part in Enrique's next film. Enrique brushes him off, but Ignacio leaves behind a story he's written, "The Visit," based on the events of their childhood. It seems that Enrique and Ignacio were childhood sweethearts whose budding puppy love was broken up by the school's principal, Father Manolo, who loved Ignacio himself.

Much of Bad Education is taken up with various versions of "The Visit." There's the original version that Ignacio presents to Enrique, in which a fictionalized adult Ignacio blackmails Father Manolo; there's the "Visit"-within-a-"Visit" that Ignacio uses to blackmail Manolo; and there's the film version, Enrique having decided that Ignacio's story is perfect material for his next movie.

Not only that, but we get to find out how the story of Ignacio, Enrique, and Father Manolo wraps up in real life, a wrapup that is not at all what we'd been expecting.

Bernal has multiple roles to play here, tackling almost all of the various Ignacios, some of whom are drag artists or transsexuals. (Similarly, Martinez plays multiple Enriques, but there's far less variation among them than among the Ignacios.)

It would be easy to get lost in the maze of storytelling levels, but Almodovar does a masterful job of keeping the stories clear; we always know which version of the story we're seeing, and how many levels removed from reality we are.

On all of its levels, the story is a lush, overripe melodrama, constantly on the edge of self-parody, but never quite falling. The gorgeous score by Alberto Iglesias is often reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's work for Hitchcock, and it helps greatly to maintain the tone of the movie.

I was in the small minority who did not care for Almodovar's last movie, Talk to Her, but Bad Education is marvelous, and should not be missed.

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