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La Mala Educación (Bad Education)
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Review Date: 01
.03.05


Pedro Almodóvar's most recent film, La Mala Educación or Bad Education, experiments with genres and thus becomes the director's signature film about making movies. It's a pastiche, a sort of gay noir melodrama. Like all his films, it features butch gay men and drag queen transsexuals. It's brightly colored, resolutely Spanish, and musically interesting in an over-the-top sort of way. Unlike many of his other movies, however, it's not buoyant or humorous, and it's not fast-paced or particularly exciting.

Supposedly about growing up in Franco's Spain-the film seems not to press the connection-Bad Education is a double indemnity tale, and the camera pauses on the movie poster of Double Indemnity outside of a local cinema that marks several important moments in the men's younger years and eventually falls into ruins. It features a director, Enrique, and a short story writer (variously known as Ignacio/Angel and Juan), who appears in the director's life from out of his childhood past in catholic boys' school. Ignacio/Angel persuades Enrique to make a movie from his short story, "The Visit." Enrique agrees, though Ignacio/Angel's condition-accepted under protest because he's too butch-is that he be allowed to play the lead, a drag queen named Zahara who is in love with-and, one night, reunites with-his friend from childhood.

I can't tell you what turns out actually to be the case in all of this, but you need to pay attention because the shifts between the film and the plot of the story itself happen quickly and mirror each other. Ignacio/Angel/Juan turns out not to be who he seems, and one of the monks who was besotted with Ignacio returns to the story as a married businessman (played by a different actor, by the way). Enrique, predictably enough, is the only one who doesn't waver, performing the role of both sleuth and film maker.

Some of the best moments in Bad Education concern precisely the boys' education at the Catholic school of their childhood. The dazzling child star of the film, Nacho Perez, plays Ignacio. Ignacio's exquisite singing voice and his precociously bedroom eyes seduce his teacher, whose erotic suffering suffuses scene after scene as the young Ignacio, realizing his power, alternatively courts and is terrified by the attention he attracts. This is strong stuff that works the line between childhood sexuality and adult abuse with grace and intensity.

Almodóvar is a wonderful director; he is Hitchcock and Pasolini combined, with the verve of a flamboyant and unapologetically gay Bunuel. Attuned to the subjectivities of gay men, trannies, and women, he aims for great film making with marginalized subjects in the starring roles. Bad Education, though a bit more meandering than his usual fare, is another of Almodóvar's successes. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.