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December 10, 2004

Pedro Almodóvar
completes his trifecta

Jab at priest abuse scandal is one of his best films

Pedro Almodóvar is one of the most inventive and compelling filmmakers, not only of his generation, but also of any group of filmmakers to ply the trade.

Almodóvar’s films are always entertaining and colorful, with layer upon layer of stories and characters who are complex, flawed, and inimitably human.

As an openly gay filmmaker Almodóvar has always presented sexuality openly and frankly. From the earliest to the most recent, his films are filled with gay, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual characters.

He is not afraid to take on taboo issues like drugs, sex, politics and religion in a zany and aggressive manner.

His latest film, Bad Education, is the best of the best, not only for the Robert Altman-esque proclivity for multiple and elliptical storylines, but also for the amazing visuals and stellar performances.

Like last year’s The Magdelene Sisters, Bad Education takes on the Catholic church and its inability to take the mistreatment of children seriously. Bad Education is an indictment, and one that is not unwarranted.

In the film we meet Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez), a successful filmmaker living in Madrid in the 1980s. He is struggling to find a subject for his new film, until his old school friend and paramour Ignacio (Francisco Boira) shows up unexpectedly. Now an actor, Ignacio has written a script called The Visit.

Bad Education shows audiences the final version of this script with Ignacio as its star and Enrique as its director.

The film-within-a-film is about Ignacio and Enrique’s time at a boarding school where they fell in love with each other and also where the priest there had his eyes on the two boys in more than just a religious manner.

Now Ignacio wants to wreak vengeance on the padre. Bad Education goes back and forth between the past, the present and The Visit.

Almodóvar takes on all of his taboo trademarks. This is his most complex and flamboyant film yet, and that’s saying a lot for a director who has produced a great body of works, almost all of which have been kaleidoscopically colorful and lurid while celebrating the human condition.

While Almodóvar’s script is brilliant, you have to have a stomach for convoluted, serpentine plot twists and unresolved story lines. His directing is stellar as always. Almodóvar matures as a filmmaker with every movie he creates.

But this film belongs to the young Gael García Bernal, who creates a multiplicity of characters and personas with deft acting and lucid emotional complexities. At 26, Bernal has already created a strong body of films from the stupendous Amores Perros and the recently released Motorcycle Diaries.

Here, as a wronged child, as a cross dresser and as a vengeful film actor, Bernal deserves accolades galore.

He is unafraid to do the unexpected and fully commits himself to whatever role he inhabits. He has no fear in taking on roles that most young actors, especially with matinee idol looks, would balk at. In Y Tu Mamá También he went headlong into the role of a bisexual who falls madly in love with his best friend.

In this film he plays a flamboyant gay man, a crazed cross-dresser with a zest and commitment that is admirable.

Bad Education is supreme Almodóvar. Only a queer filmmaker could make films that are so bold and honest to the gay ideal. Like his star Bernal, Almodóvar is unafraid to make daring films and create images that are quintessentially queer.

With the successes of All About My Mother and Talk to Her, Bad Education creates a trifecta of cinema from one of the world’s greatest filmmakers.

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