Release date: March 19, 2004 Director: Pedro Almodovar
Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education is a powerful, deeply personal film that has been slapped with an NC-17 from the censor-happy ratings board. Mind you, this does not denote that the film in question is pornographic. What this means is that the film is slightly more liberal in it’s depictions of sex and violence than an R rated film. Over the years, a stigma has developed around the this particular rating, and is often considered the “kiss of death” to the films with which it is awarded. Bad Education is rated NC-17 for a scene of “explicit sexuality” between two men which takes place within the first fifteen minutes of the film. Honestly, I have seen far more “explicit” material on prime time television.
The NC-17 rating seems like a reactionary decision in this particular case. A similar scene in Brokeback Mountain gets an R rating, proving that the ratings board is an arbitrary and useless force in the industry. We live in a society where Quentin Tarantino – God bless him – can shoot up and slice and dice his characters to shreds, rack up an extraordinary body count, and receive the R, while honest portrayals of sexuality are deemed offensive and therefore worthy of an NC-17. I don’t get it. For further proof of the incompetence of the ratings board, please see Kirby Dick’s documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
Before I go on, I do realize that there are those who have personal convictions regarding sexual content in film, and if you are one of those people, I would encourage you to run as far as you possibly can from this film and don’t look back.
On to the review.
This is one of Pedro Almodovar’s best films. It unfolds by way of a complicated narrative structure, and concerns two individuals, Enrique and Ignacio, two childhood friends at a Catholic school who fall in love with one another. However, the two boys are forced apart when the pedophile priest, Father Manolo, has Enrique expelled, in order to continue his sexual abuse of Ignacio.
Years later, Enrique is now a successful filmmaker who is looking for a new project. One day, a man claiming to be Ignacio shows up at his door with a screenplay entitled The Visit. He says that the screenplay is partly based on their childhood, and it contains a supposedly fictional sub-plot in which the character based on Ignacio blackmails Father Manolo for a million dollars. Enrique decides to direct the project, and his amorous feelings for Ignacio are reignited. However, suspicions are aroused when circumstances cause Enrique to doubt whether the man claiming to be Ignacio is really who he appears to be. From here on, the film segues into a film noir mystery full of unexpected twists and double-crosses, all the while moving back and forth to the present time and the “film within a film”, The Visit. In the latter scenes, Bernal embodies the character of the headstrong drag queen, Zahara, who attempts to blackmail the priest alongside his flamboyant sidekick, Paquito. The aspect ratio changes throughout the film, as Almodovar shifts effortlessly from fantasy to reality.
Bad Education is a film that deals with the consequences of abuse, both physical and emotional – and how the victims carry the burden of that abuse for the rest of their lives. In many ways, this is a tragedy. It is not an easy film to watch, nor should it be. The harsh realities presented in this film are not sugar coated for the audience, and this is admirable on Almodovar’s part. Unlike his other films, which contain elements of camp and melodrama, Bad Education is considerably darker and doesn’t provide much sanctuary for the characters within. The ending is bleak and abrupt. Hope and grace are all but absent here. It is heartbreaking. It is unforgettable.
The acting and direction are of the highest quality. Gael Garcia Bernal delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Ignacio/Angel/Zahara/Juan. Fele Martinez is equally impressive as Enrique, and effectively conveys the emotions that his character experiences. Almodovar proves once again that he is a master of the medium, and the musical score from Alberto Iglesiasis amazing, with hints of Bernard Herrmann sprinkled throughout, particularly during the opening credits montage.
Bad Education is a film that you need to see, especially if you are a serious film buff. It would be a crime for you to miss it. This is one of the best films of 2004, and it deserved a wider release in the States.
Adam is a hardcore film fanatic. Some would call him a film snob. They’re probably right. He’s been writing film reviews for as long as he can remember, and it is truly one of his passions. Aside from writing film reviews, he is also a screenwriter. He’s written two shorts in the last year, one of which he plans to shoot in the spring of 2013. His favorite filmmakers are Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, Michael Haneke, and David Lynch – simply too many to list here.