AFED #60: La mala educación [Bad Education] (Spain, 2004); Dir. Pedro Almodóvar

Another day, another review, but in truth I'm tired and a little despondent. I'm not sure how much that has influenced my reaction to Bad Education which, like most Almodóvar films is a perfectly fine piece of work.

Enrique (Raúl García Forneiro), a successful film director, is surprised at his offices one day by the arrival of a young man (Gael García Berna) claiming to be his old schoolfriend and first love Ignacio, now himself n actor looking for work. "Ignacio" presents him with a script inspired by their school days and the priest who sexually abused them in which Ignacio, now a transsexual, imagines meeting the priest again and exacting his revenge.

The narrative weaves a metafictional tapestry between this script and reality as Enrique, perplexed by Ignacio's offhand manner and lack of recollection of what's passed between them in the past, investigates Ignacio. After uncovering some of the truth Enrique decides to begin production of the script with Igncacio in the lead; scenes from which we've already watched. But when during filming a figure from the past turns up the sordid secrets at the heart of the mystery are revealed.

Like most Almodóvar's films there's a strong camp element, but Bad Education also draws upon personal recollections and in the subject of child abuse and the complicity of the Catholic church touches upon some extremely dark themes.

The trouble I have is that distinction director Oliver Stone once made (in talking about Quentin Tarantino) between 'films' and 'movies'. Lest that seem a tautology what I mean is that Almodóvar's work falls mainly into the latter category; his priority is entertain the viewer, rather than involve or emotionally engage. The campness is all good fun but it creates an ironic distancing from the story, so that even when looking a serious issues such as sexual abuse he seldom succeeds in evoking a strong reaction.

Consequently although I can enjoy his work and sometimes - as here - admire the innovative approach to narrative, it seldom lingers long in the memory. His are the soft-boiled curate's eggs of cinema; they have a pleasant taste and texture, they go down easily, but don't leave one satiated.

This lack of pathos renders characterisation essentially two-dimensional and its a fatal flaw when telling the kind of human dramas that are the director's speciality. When the real Ignacio finally makes his appearance in Bad Education there's a fundamental need to feel some kind of sympathy for him, however reduced his circumstances may be. We need to feel some sense of tragedy, rather than a simple denouement.

You can get away with this in certain comedies, and sometimes even a suspense, but when a film centres on an unfulfilled love story then personally I need a little more. Perhaps it just didn't catch me in the right frame of mind.


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