Monday, January 22, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: Bad Education

The sheen of a new year is still on 2018 and I'm off to a good start for this year's Blind Spot Challenge as laid down by Ryan at The Matinee. In case you're not familiar, Ryan has challenged his fellow bloggers to watch one "significant" movie they've never seen before, each month. This month, I watched...

Why did I pick it? It was unfinished business. I tried watching Bad Education once before. It was a poor attempt. I started after midnight, already sleepy, but not quite ready to lie down. A few minutes in, I began dozing off and went in and out of consciousness throughout the entire movie. Before I knew it, I was staring the DVD menu not knowing how long it had been since the film ended. I put it back on my shelf and left it there. After all, I only bought it because it was just a dollar at a pawn shop I frequent when trying to add to my collection. I'd heard good things about it and figured why not? It was also my first time watching a Pedro Almodóvar film. In the years since, I've watched several others, each amazing. Now seemed like the perfect time to give this one another chance.

The film starts with Enrique (Fele Martínez), a famous director, combing the tabloids in search of inspiration for his next film. During this, he receives a surprise visit from an old friend, Ignacio (Gael García Bernal), a classmate from his childhood. Ignacio reveals he has written a script he wants Enrique to film. Understandably hesitant, Enrique agrees to read it and make a decision. As Ignacio leaves, we discover that he didn't just go to school with Ignacio, but Ignacio was Enrique's first love. After reading the script, Enrique agrees to make the movie and away we go.

Bad Education is now the fifth film I've seen by Almodóvar of the thirty-five he's directed. In that limited experience, I've noticed that his work often depicts people who struggle with their identity. This includes their gender and/or sexuality. This film is no different. Every significant character, save for Enrique, is dealing with an identity crisis of some sort. Even those who know who they are grapple to reconcile one part of their life with another. More importantly to the plot, they are all busy trying to conceal one aspect or another of themselves from others. This leads to a number of interesting reveals along the way. None of them are done just for the sake of it. Each alters the course of the story in a way that heightens our intrigue.

The fact so many changes keep happening and keep adding to the story instead of weighing it down is a testament to the screenplay Almodóvar penned himself. Reportedly, it took him ten years to write. I can see why. At its core, it's a simple tale of blackmail and betrayal. However, it's told with a good deal of complexity. Many films that attempt this trick fall apart under the pressure to keep so many moving parts going. And there are plenty of them. Our main plot competes for screen time with the movie within the movie and numerous flashbacks. It's a marvel this isn't an incoherent mess, let alone being something that actually works, yet it does.

Almodóvar doesn't make it work all on his own. He gets plenty of help from Gael García Bernal in the lead role. Bernal is charged with playing a multi-layered person and giving each of these layers depth. Eventually, it evolves into him playing one character that feels like three. He gives them all enough to feel whole, never short-changing any aspect of them. To paraphrase Robert Downey Jr.'s character from Tropic Thunder, he's a dude playing a dude playing another dude. And he does it brilliantly. This further cements my belief that he is one of the best actors in the world. He's been tremendous in just about everything I've seen him in (six films in all). It's a shame he hasn't gained much traction in his few outings in American movies. More of us in this country need to know him and see his work.

The rest of the cast is nearly as good. It seems an impossible feat fro them all to be so good given the fact their numbers suddenly expand in the third act. We wind up with more people playing the people we've already been watching. Again, Almodóvar's writing deserves the lion's share of the credit. Still, the actors cannot go without mention. Each of them seamlessly integrates themselves into the proceedings. They don't come in chewing scenery and trying to take over the production. They give us well-worn people who are barely able to conceal already poorly hidden agendas. Francisco Boira is the standout. He turns up late as the perpetually sweaty and on the verge of an overdose Ignacio. He is the only person able to steal scenes from Bernal. Daniel Giménez Cacho is also excellent as Father Manolo. I'd like to tell you more about him, but I feel like I might be spoiling things. I know, this film is well over a decade old. I get it, but it really deserves to be seen with as little knowledge of all the little detours as possible. Yes, I know I gave away a nugget of info just before writing this. Sue me.

Rest assured, the plot packs in a bunch. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will again praise the writing. I'm doing so because I forgot to talk about another aspect of it that struck me as exceptional. Since this is essentially a movie about making a movie, it's probably implied that it's a self-aware piece of work. One small moment in the final act demonstrates this more than any other. Two characters are trying to pass some time and decide to go to the movies. The theater so happens to be running a film-noir marathon. When they leave, both complain about what they've watched. "It flet like every movie was talking about us." Suffice it to say, of course it did. Never the very end, Almodóvar goes all in and tells us what type of ending the movie must have and why. It's a bold move, but one he pulls off. Almost. And this is the one are I take issue with this film. It ends in a good enough spot. However, we get epilogues for several characters that are just as interesting as what we've already watched. I would love for this to have a proper part of the film instead of written out for us to read. The pacing is very good and it clocks in at about 105 minutes so this could've continued and told the story in full and been an even better film.

You read right. I didn't want it to end. That's the sign of a great movie. The story snaps, crackles, and pops all the way through and never seems to stop unfolding. Thanks one last time to a dazzling screenplay. The acting and directing are superb as the have to be for it all to work. It does and reminds me there plenty more Almodóvar movies I need to watch.

Check out what I watched for the 2017 Blind Spot Series...


  1. I remember reading about this movie in a magazine we got at the theater I worked at right before I quit. It caught my eye because it had an NC-17 rating. I've always wanted to see it but never have. Reading your review makes me want to watch it immediately though.

    1. It is absolutely worth it. If you have seen any of Almodovar's other work then you know he's not shy about depicting sex. To be honest, though, I'm not sure it gets an NC-17 if released today in the aftermath of Brokeback Mountain, Tangerine and dick shots in practically every R-rated comedy. Excellent film, regardless.

  2. You know a film is so fucking good when you don't want it to end. That is one of Almodovar's great feats as a filmmaker. Plus, it has him showing bits of Hitchcock from its credits to some of the visuals as it has him borrowing from Hitchcock but with his own spin. I've seen all Almodovar's work so far and he's rarely made a few films that I didn't like. Yet, there's so much of his work that is so compelling as he's one of the few masters in cinema right now that is still around.

    1. Yes, this one is very Hitchcockian. But definitely with Almodovar's own personal twist. He truly is a master.

  3. What a great testament to the re-watch!

  4. I haven't watch this movie. But I will do later on this Sunday. I am big fan of movies and love to watch online movies. Thanks for aware me about this movie.