Bad Education (2004) (La Mala Educación - original title) Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
It has a been a minor tragedy (a tragedy nevertheless) in our over-a-decade-long relationship that Almodovar movies have not been a shared experience. The movie house has had no subtitles in English and neither did the Scandinavian DVDs of Almodovar movies sold in Finland. Almodovar has therefore been a rather silent pleasure of mine, something I haven't been able to share, yet have yearned to for years. My going and seeing the latest Almodovar on my own has become a kind of thing in itself, so it felt strange when I opened a package and found a box of Almodovar films in it – with English subtitles of course – I knew my privacy with Almodovar was over.
As we cracked open the vein of Spanish brilliance, we did another unusual thing: we sat through the whole movie in one sitting on the same evening! This hasn't happened here since the arrival of our little child. Part of the reason why we could watch the whole film now has to be that we are finally getting into a rhythm with the new style of living and don't have to check every five minutes if the baby is breathing... the other reason is the movie itself. La Mala Educación sucks you in with its visuals and its twisting and turning plot.
There is a daunting amount of aspects to consider and details to point out about La Mala Educación. In order to avoid sounding too vague and detached, I will only mention the gender aspect of the film. Gender is central in La Mala Educación as Almodovar always deals with realities more queer than your hetero normative mainstream; he usually puns with femininities and masculinities at the heart of his works. Here homosexuality is central while transgendered characters add much to the content. While the movie could be just a plot carrying ride, it is also political in its choice of depiction.
There is an important depiction of pedophilia also, but it does not relate to the queer perspective as such – it's a portrayal of child molestation and the long suffocating tentacles so hard to detach even as an adult surviver.
There is nothing more satisfying for me than watching a cineast stay true to his vision yet drop knowing reference after reference into their cinema. This is exactly what Pedro Almodovar does with Bad Education. This could be a barely disguised tribute to the late 1950's cinema of Alfred Hitchcock, if Almodovar had not infused Bad Education with his own regular themes and interests (in this case a tale of child abuse, betrayal and murder amongst homosexual lovers). But Hitchcock looms over Bad Education from the off with Alberto Iglesias's music reminiscent of the best Bernard Herrmann theme whilst the title sequence, despite being pictures of cocks and drag queens still manages to channel the spirit of Saul Bass. As if this were not enough, Almodovar even gives a nod to Montgomery Clift in I Confess and a blow job scene that manages to use an interesting camera angle and color scheme that all but recalls another Hitchcock movie in Frenzy.
Almodovar of course is too much of an original to just offer mere imitation of cinema's former glories even though here he still manages to throw in small tributes to The Searchers and The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg whilst no one's looking! Bad Education is a study of the dark arts and in this case child abuse in a Franco-era school and the profound effect it has on two friends subsequent lives. Bad Education is people doing bad things to each other - there's lots of evil intent that results in illicit fucking. There's also a movie within a movie, audacious costumes from Jean Paul Gaultier, a lavish use of color and style in Bad Education which compliments the usual black humor that Almodovar brings to these characters.
The central performances from Gael Garcia Bernal and Fele Martinez are incredible (Bernal spends half of his role in drag). Almodovar keeps the reigns tight throughout so when the sometimes implausible plot twists happen, Bad Education still delivers as great cinema. And this is one of the feats that Almodovar achieves with Bad Education, in discussing real issues such as child abuse in such a superficial, gaudy way (especially the over stylized 1970's Madrid) he never ever trivializes his subject. I've been missing out on Pedro Almodovar movies for over a decade now. It's a shame for me, as Bad Education pertains, I've obviously been missing the work of a master.