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Bad Education (La Mala Educación) (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Teaser trailer; Theatrical trailer; Television spots; Making of montage. Photo gallery; Press book; Costume design feature; Deleted scenes.

PEDRO Almodovar describes Bad Education as ‘a very intimate film’, which had to be got out of his system before it became an ‘obsession’.

While not strictly autobiographical, it was inspired by experiences he encountered while growing up, and is a typically provocative look at ‘the many faces of passion’, as seen through the eyes of several protagonists.

Yet it is also a cold affair, which marks the filmmaker at his darkest, and which struggles to present a character that can be truly identified with, due to the moral grey area in which it exists.

The film, while typically ambitious, is actually a film within a film, that depicts the same story from three different perspectives.

It focuses on the relationship between two children, Ignacio (Gael Garcià Bernal) and Enrique (Fele Martinez), as they discover a passion for each other, for cinema and fear, in a religious school at the start of the 60s, as well as in subsequent years.

Central to their relationship is the role played by Father Manolo (played jointly by Daniel Giménez-Cacho and Lluis Homar), an unsavoury priest, who also falls in love with Ignacio, and attempts to keep him for himself.

Yet despite his attempts to separate the two boys, they eventually meet up, once again, in the 80s, when Ignacio brings Enrique, now a director, a script for a story called ‘The Visit’, which recounts their childhood, while also serving as a tool for revenge, in respect of Fr Manolo.

The revelations which ensue have far-reaching implications and help both men to learn more about the lives and deaths of those closest to them, taking in deception, betrayal and, eventually, murder.

While certainly intriguing and complex, Bad Education lacks the heart of Almodovar’s previous piece, Talk To Her, serving, instead, as a disturbing and frequently unpleasant look into the mixed-up psychology of its central characters.

The director maintains that the film is designed as a ‘noir’, and in no way represents an attack on the Catholic church, while also serving as the opposite of a film with good guys and villains.

He maintains that, as a director, his job is to represent them, rather than judge them, no matter what they do, leaving his ‘spectators’ to form their own opinions of the ‘obscure thriller’ which results.

And while certainly marking a refreshing change from the bog-standard Hollywood fare, in which everything has to be spoon-fed to audiences, it also works as a disadvantage, in this case, but one which is difficult to explain without giving too much away (something which Almodovar is keen to avoid).

There are plenty of twists in the tightly wound plot, many of which cannot be predicted, but the characters fail to connect, emotionally, with viewers, once their motivations become clear.

Almodovar likens Bernal’s role in proceedings to that of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, in that he leads all the characters who come into contact with him to their downfall, but as strong as Bernal is in the role, he lacks the sort of charisma of Ripley; possibly because audiences are forced to play catch up, rather than empathising with him.

Likewise, most of the central performers, all of whom excel, but who appear a little too detached from any emotional connection. Fr Manolo, especially, is genuinely chilling, but in attempting to ‘explain his complexity’, Almodovar fails to provide a satisfying conclusion.

Bad Education is good, from a film-maker’s point of view, and is as beautifully shot and intricate as we have come to expect from the director, but it is crucially lacking, for me, in heart, which is a tragedy almost as big as the one which unfolds on screen.

The result is a piece of work which is impossible to ignore, but difficult to recommend.

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