04 March 2010

Review: "La Mala Educación" (Bad Education)

There is not much left that can be said about Pedro Almodóvar and his films. I am trying to make my way through his films, though it is very difficult to find them for rental. La Mala Educación is his 2004 effort, sandwiched in between 2002's Academy Award-winning Hable Con Ella (Best Original Screenplay) and 2006's Volver (also Oscar nominated, Best Actress for Penélope Cruz). La Mala Educación was the official opening film of the Cannes Film Festival in 2004, making it the very first Spanish film to ever have that honour. One of the central themes of the film is sexual abuse and the inspiration is said to have come from the director's own past. Variety reports that Pedro Almodóvar spent ten years developing the screenplay because he had to get the story out of his system. Unlike many of his films, La Mala Educación features male actors in leading roles. What may link this film to Almodóvar's previous films is that one of the key roles is a transsexual, played by Gael Garcia Bernal.

The film's present is 1980 and Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez) is a successful film director. He is visited by a stranger (Gael Garcia Bernal) claiming to be a man named Ignacio (now preferring to be called Angel), who was Enrique's boyhood love while at a Catholic boarding school. Enrique does not believe him to be Ignacio, who has come looking for work as an actor. He presents Enrique with an autobiographical screenplay, detailing their youthful exploits and an attempt to gain revenge on Fr. Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who abused both boys physically and sexually. Angel tells Enrique that he will give him the screenplay on the condition that he play the role of Zahara, the transsexual lead character, which we learn is based on Ignacio. The film presents events from the past through flashbacks, showing the boys' love and affection for each other and the torment that Fr. Manolo cause. Enrique investigates the memories of his own past and discovers that Angel is Ignacio's brother Juan and that Ignacio has died. The only real mystery is what happened to Ignacio and who was involved.

La Mala Educación is a fantastically complex film that incorporates sexual abuse and murder mystery with the exquisite colour and imagery found in Almodóvar films. Gael Garnia Bernal, a Mexican actor who had to prove to Almodóvar that he could produce a convincing Catalan accent, has an incredible presence on screen that gives his characters a sense of versatility that is uncommon amongst most working actors today. The film draws comparisons to Almodóvar's most recent film, Los Abrazos Rotos (which starred Lluis Homar, who has a critical role in this film), in which a film within a film leads to solving a murder mystery. The acting in this film is superb, as is always the case in Almodóvar films, but the film belongs to Gael Garnia Bernal who plays three extremely different characters. Almodóvar has a wonderful sense of direction and the themes in his films are strong and vibrant, and La Mala Educación is no exception.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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