January 18, 2003
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez, Francisco Boira, Javier Cámara, Juan Fernández, Alberto Ferreiro, Raúl García Forneiro, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lluís Homar, Roberto Hoyas, Francisco Maestre, Petra Martínez, Nacho Pérez, Leonor Watling, ,
The film within a film scenario is given the colourful Almodovar treatment in this stylish, autobiographical noir masterwork. Moving and laced with delicious black humor this has given the great Spanish director his biggest every domestic box office opening and also provided the 2004 Cannes Film Festival with its most credible opening night film in years.
Almodovar has been working on this piece for over ten years, which is unsurprising given the nature of the story and the convoluted unfolding of events. While definitely not a film that will sit comfortably with all cinema goers and certainly not as commercially digestible as either Talk To Her or All About My Mother, Bad Education is, nonetheless, a smart slice of cinema that aficionados will be delighted with.
Things begin in Madrid in 1980 where successful film director Enrique Goded (Martinez) is paid an unexpected visit from an old school friend, Ignacio Rodriguez (Bernal) who is now referred to as ‘Angel Andrade’.
Enrique remembers his old school friend vividly, even if it has been sixteen years since they last laid eyes on each other, so is shocked that he fails to recognize the handsome stranger immediately. Angel has brought with him a script entitled ‘The Visit’ which he wants Enrique to make into a film.
The script was inspired by their time at a strict Catholic school where the principal, Father Manolo had a pedophilic obsession with the young, choir singer Ignacio. It also tells how the two boys discovered their mutual love for each other and how movies provided the backdrop for the unfolding events. In one scene Ignacio is seen singing ‘Moon River’ from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to a besotted Father Manolo while Ignacio and Enrique’s love of Sara Montiel (a gay icon in Spain) films bring them closer to together – in the literal respect.
The story continues on to fantasize about a reunion of all three as adults. Ignacio, now a drug-addicted drag queen, seduces Enrique and blackmails the priest.
Production on the film moves ahead with Angel demanding to play the part of the drag queen however Enrique is less than convinced and starts to investigate Angel’s background only to discover he’s not Ignacio but his younger brother Juan. The real Ignacio died three years earlier after completing ‘The Visit. The film begins and Enrique and Angel become lovers up until the final day of shooting when the real Fr.Manolo turns up to reveal exactly how Ignacio died.
The use of film as a metaphor for characters behavior and relationships is utilized beautifully. Real people change into fictional ones who then impersonate characters from old movies. Reality and fantasy become blurred creating a veritable tapestry of deceit and duplicity, which, thanks to a taut screenplay, are never less than gripping.
The actors also help proceedings along marvelously clearly understanding where the story is headed and the director’s vision. Bernal is the star of the show delivering a convincing turn as both the drag queen femme fatale and smoldering, devious stud. It’s a complex, tough part and he rises to the challenge superbly.
The cinematography is terrific and the passionate, dramatic score all help to make this a thoroughly enjoyable melodrama.