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Bad Education

  Bad Education
"Ever see 'Sleepers'? No? Good."

© 2004, Sony Pictures Classics
All Rights Reserved

Long hailed as a rising star of cinema, "Y Tu Mama Tambien" star Gael García Bernal now shines as a transvestite femme fatale in director Pedro Almodovar's anticipated new film. "Bad Education" (IMDb listing) is a complicated story-within-a-story-within-a-film triangle. Nothing less could be expected from the Spanish director who's made this sort of film his trademark.

Almodovar, who worked on the script for a decade and finally made the film to get it out of his system, likes to think of "Bad Education" as film noir. He explains: "In film noir there may not be policemen or guns or even physical violence, but there must be lies and fatality, qualities that are normally embodied by a woman: the femme fatale. She isn't indispensable in the genre, but she is one of its great icons, a woman aware of her power of seduction, hypo tense, so she won't be easily upset, who has lost her scruples and has no interest in recovering them."

How and why did he choose Bernal for this essential part, after cross-dressing every Spanish actor in the prime of young manhood? He auditioned him several times, like everyone else, and the Mexican actor proved to be attractive as both a man and a woman, a quality essential to the character (characters, in fact) and his/her intense relationships with others.

The film is set in Madrid, 1980. Young and successful film director Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez) is in search of inspiration for a new film when into his office walks a bearded young man who introduces himself as Enrique's old school friend Ignacio Rodríguez (Bernal). In the 16 years they haven't seen each other Enrique has never forgotten his friend and first love, but now he doesn't recognize him at all. In school Ignacio used to be a promising writer and, having turned to acting since, has now brought Enrique his last story, "The Visit." It's a semi-fictional account of their childhood at the church-run school, followed by a meeting of the characters years later when they are adults and the fictional Ignacio is well on his way to being Zahara, a drug addict and transvestite who impersonates gay icon Sara Montiel. Intrigued, Enrique accepts Ignacio's offer to turn the story into a film. But he can't shake an uneasy feeling and when he does some research of his own, Ignacio's story unravels. Enrique, wanting to see how far Ignacio will go in his deceit, agrees to let him play Zahara. But when a mysterious stranger shows up on the set, Enrique has to pay the price for his curiosity.

The acting is fabulous, the cinematography is gorgeous, and Almodovar, who says the film is autobiographical only in that his own life experiences inspired him to come up with the story, has poured his heart and soul into "Bad Education." Alas, while the passion of the project is palpable, the structure is immensely complicated and so chock-full of information and implication that ultimately the film only scratches the surface of what its director intended to reveal. The abrupt ending is, unfortunately, a let down.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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