La mala educación (Bad Education)
Once shattered, childhood innocence can never be repaired…
Written By: Michaela Clement-Hayes
Date: 11th January, 2015
Opening the 57th Cannes Film Festival in 2004, Bad Education is one of Pedro Almodóvar’s most daring pieces of cinema. Less camp and surreal than some of his other popular films, this is a dark and tragic story.
Enrique (Fele Martínez) is a filmmaker searching for his next story, when his childhood love Ignacio (Gael García Bernal), now calling himself Ángel, turns up with script called The Visit. This story takes Enrique back to boarding school when he first met and fell in love with Ignacio, only to have their love destroyed by Fr Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho). As he journeys down Memory Lane and shoots the film, Enrique realises that Ángel is not who he seems and he discovers the dark and twisted truth about what really happened to his friend over the years…
Delving into a world of religion, child abuse and drug addiction, Bad Education is a gripping story that shocks and delights. Whereas Almodóvar films tend to feature strong women, there are very few women in the film; perhaps the strongest female character is that of Zahara (Gael García Bernal) who portrays Ignacio as he might have been in Enrique’s film. Instead, this is a film about men with a focus on the weakness of children and how their childhood can affect them throughout their lives.
The cinematography in this film is excellent as it flicks between the past, present and Enrique’s film itself. The flashback transitions are so smooth that the audience is never sure if they are watching scenes from Enrique’s memory Ignacio’s story or Enrique’s film adaptation and the plot thickens still more when the real Fr Manolo (Lluís Homar), a far cry from the romanticised ‘actor’ playing him, turns up and reveals the truth about both Ángel and Ignacio.
The film’s score is sublime, particularly the choral music from the boys at the school and the discreet references to classic 60’s movies – when young Ignacio (Nacho Pérez) sings Moon River it sends shivers down your spine. This boy with an angelic voice has his world shattered by the abuse he suffers at the hands of Fr Manolo which scars him and Enrique for life.
Yet for all of the dark, gritty story, this film is beautiful and the actors sublime. The charismatic Gael García Bernal is an actor who will take on anything, managing to captivate us as both Zahara and Ángel, with his range of emotions believable and intense.
Nacho Pérez is also charming, his innocence and betrayal portrayed so clearly that it’s even more of a shock when we find out how his adult life turned out.
Daniel Giménez Cacho also gives an emotional performance as the boys’ literature teacher who falls in love with the pretty choirboy, particularly his reaction to Ignacio’s performance of Torna a Surriento (jardinero).
This film is gripping, as heart-warming as it is shocking. The ending is perhaps a little disappointing, with the true fate of Ignacio falling short of Enrique’s film ending. However, Almodóvar has managed to produce an outstanding film that deals with a topic that many directors would struggle to tackle successfully.
Therefore, Bad Education can only be described as a cinematic triumph.