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