Viva Pedro Part Eight:
Bad Education ****
Ah, all roads must come to an end. Since the middle of August, each week I have been watching a new film by Pedro Almodovar, as a part of the eight week retrospective "Viva Pedro." And it is ironic that "Bad Education" is the last film of the retrospective, while it is also the first Almodovar that I have ever seen. When I saw "Bad Education" in 2004 I hailed it as a masterpiece, and one of the year's best. While it fell short of the year's top 10, I was upset that it didn't reach the success, critically and financially, that it deserved. It is engrossing, hooking you into the plot from the very beginning, and never letting go. Sitting into the theatre a few weeks ago, prepared to see this one the big screen for the first time in two years, I was excited. How would I feel about "Bad Education" two years later, seeing seven other Almodovar films since then? And the answer was simple. It is probably my favorite of all the work he has done.
Working on the film for ten years before finally getting it made, Almodovar's "Bad Education" starts with violins and other string instruments providing a frantic tune. One that is
forbidding and yet puts you in a trance. Something is going to happen here, but what? We are then introduced to Enrique, a film director who has a case of writer's block. As a way of coming up with new film ideas, he looks around the newspapers for interesting stories. He is interrupted by a knock at the door, where Ignacio enters. Ignacio reveals himself as a friend of Enrique from school, where the two became best friends and lovers. Ignacio has changed, and Enrique cannot see anything of the friend that he knew in him. He even changed his name, and demands to be called Angel now. Agents. . . or Angel. . . drops a story off with Enrique. Entitled "The Visit" it is a story about the past, with the two boys in school, and at the same time tells a fictional story about what happens to the characters when they grow up.
Now we get into the movie within a movie, which in turn leads to a movie within a movie within a movie. Pay attention. Enrique reads the story he was sent, which is the story of Zahara, a cross dressing club singer who goes home with a man that she sees in the club. After having far too many drugs, the man ends up falling asleep during an intimate moment, and Zahara goes through his wallet. He finds his ID, and learns that it is Enrique, someone from his boyhood who was his first lover. Zahara decides to go back to his childhood, and get revenge on the priest that tore them apart. His plan is about blackmail, and he will go through extreme lengths to be successful.
While reading the fictional account, Enrique remembers what actually happened. While in school, Ignacio was the favorite of Father Manolo, who was enchanted by Ignacio's voice. While in the forest, Ignacio sings "Moon River," and the priest cannot help by try and touch him. Ignacio meets Enrique, and the two become fast friends, going to various movies together, and then becoming something more. However, in the middle of the night the two retreat to the bathroom, where they are caught by the priest. The priest sends Enrique away from the school, and the two friends are forced to leave one another forever. Flashing back to the present, all of these three stories merge together, as Enrique learns the mysteries of Ignacio. . . Angel. . . and also confronts the past and Father Manolo.
On print is could seem confusing, but on the screen it is a vision. Almodovar doesn't try and trick the viewer by getting him confused as to which story is going on. Instead he changes the size of the screen. And the flashbacks only occur for the first half of the film, where the screen squeezes together a little bit. As the eighth film in the series, I could see many recurring themes. When Almodovar isn't talking about women and their struggles, he is talking about men that want to be women and their struggles. And his images are fantastic, bringing strange darkness to the brightest colors. Who know that yellow and orange could be so creepy? Almodovar is able to reinvent any genre from the past that he wants to do, and this is his film noir masterpiece, , beating the similarly paced "Matador." Underrated, but my personal favorite of the eight I've seen.
And so, the festival has ended. I could question "Bad Education" being used in the festival, as it is fairly recent and can be accessed by anybody with a video store. But in a way, it is the perfect way, in my personal life, to close it. I saw this in a new light, now knowing everything that I know about this director. And it will be hard to see any more films by him that are not on the big screen. This was a terrific festival, and the only true way that I could appriciate Almodovar for what he truely is: One of the genius directors of our time. Even his weakest works are something original and strange and always something to see. Thank you Sony Pictures Classics for "Viva Pedro!"