- Bad Education movie (2004) review: This “gay film noir” is one of screenwriter-director Pedro Almodóvar’s most accomplished and most daringly subversive efforts – considering previous efforts like Law of Desire, All About My Mother, and Talk to Her, that’s no small feat.
- Y Tu Mamá También actor Gael García Bernal turns in a fearless characterization as the male equivalent of the mysterious – and potentially deadly – women played by the likes of Jane Greer, Rita Hayworth, and Claire Trevor in decades past.
- The production values in Almodóvar’s Bad Education movie are first-rate. That includes the work of cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, composer Alberto Iglesias, art director Antxón Gómez, and editor José Salcedo.
Bad Education movie review: Pedro Almodóvar’s brazenly subversive gay-themed effort is a high mark in the noir genre
One of screenwriter-director Pedro Almodóvar’s most accomplished, most complex, and most daring films, Bad Education / La mala educación – funny, moving, disturbing, inspiring – cleverly subverts the conventions of the classical film noir genre to render an early 21st-century cinematic masterwork.
In large part responsible for the movie’s success are the performances of its two male leads, Mexican import Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También) and Fele Martínez (Open Your Eyes), and assorted supporting players, in addition to its first-rate production values.
In fact, Bad Education is such good – and provocative – cinema that it was all but completely neglected during the 2004–2005 awards season in the United States, managing to win only one award: Best Foreign Language Film from the New York Film Critics Circle. Needless to say, though far superior to this year’s five Best Picture Academy Award nominees, Bad Education failed to receive a single Oscar nomination.
Catholic school lessons
Set in 1980, right around the time Almodóvar himself began writing and directing feature films, Bad Education tells the story of Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez), a young movie director in dire need of inspiration for his next project. Coincidentally, at that moment Enrique becomes reacquainted with a long-lost schoolfriend, the good-looking, mysterious Ignacio – now known as Ángel (Gael García Bernal) – who presents him with a short story, “The Visit,” hoping it would become the basis for a screenplay.
Mixing reality with fiction, a series of flashbacks reveal that Enrique and Ignacio had been boyfriends when they (Alberto Ferreiro as Enrique, Nacho Pérez as Ignacio) were adolescents attending Catholic boarding school in the mid-1960s.
Another revelation is that one of the school’s priests, the handsome Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho), had been madly in love with Ignacio, who both looked and sang like an angel. Consumed by jealousy, the priest is resolute in destroying the relationship between the two boys.
Enrique eventually decides to make a movie out of Ignacio’s short story. But first he must come to terms with the fact that his first love is now back in his life.
Or is he?
Audacious neo noir
That final question mark is the key film noir element in Bad Education.
Who is Ignacio/Ángel? Is he who he says he is? Even if so, is he the same Ignacio that Enrique had once knew and fallen in love with? And how factual is his short story?
The characters played Van Heflin in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past, Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai, and Joseph Cotten in The Third Man would undoubtedly have been able to relate to Enrique’s plight.
The (anti)hero can sense danger. But where’s it coming from? A supposed enemy? Or the object of desire herself?
On the other hand, Heflin, Mitchum, et al. would likely have been unable to relate to some of the audacious goings-on in Bad Education. Yet these are in large part what makes Almodóvar’s neo noir so unique: A near-explicit gay sex sequence that earned the film an NC-17 rating in the U.S.; a subtle mutual masturbation scene featuring the teens Enrique and Ignacio while watching troubled nun Sara Montiel in Pecado de amor; and the undiluted ugliness of everyday reality, especially when juxtaposed with the lyricism of memories, fantasies, and the universe of cinema.
Fearless Gael García Bernal
As mentioned further up, the Bad Education movie cast is uniformly excellent.
Whether as Ignacio/Ángel or as the drag queen Zahara, Gael García Bernal, in particular, proves himself one of the most versatile, compelling, and fearless film actors of the young century. He is one of the players featured in the sex scene slapped with the NC-17 rating.
Fele Martínez is capably cast as the serious-minded young filmmaker – Pedro Almodóvar has affirmed that Bad Education isn’t autobiographical – while Daniel Giménez Cacho succeeds in making sympathetic a (however embellished version of the) character most people would find despicable.
Well, bear in mind that Pedro Almodóvar is the man responsible for Talk to Her, featuring Javier Cámara as a sympathetic rapist/borderline necrophiliac; Law of Desire, featuring Antonio Banderas as a sympathetic stalker; Matador, featuring Assumpta Serna as a sympathetic kinky-sex aficionada/murderess; and What Have I Done to Deserve This?, featuring Carmen Maura as a sympathetic housewife and mother who, due to financial constraints, allows her young son to go live with his pedophile dentist.
Reality & fiction as one
Lastly, one must acknowledge that as important as those in front of the camera is the Bad Education movie talent working behind the scenes.
Pedro Almodóvar’s neo noir has the stylish, sensuous feel that has been the filmmaker’s trademark since the late 1980s. Its narrative is immeasurably assisted by the work of composer Alberto Iglesias, art director Antxón Gómez, editor José Salcedo, and cinematographer José Luis Alcaine’s soft but vibrant hues – remember that one of the noirest of all noirs, John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven, was shot in Technicolor.
Viewers are thus visually and aurally transported to a universe where past and present, remembrances and imagination, movie world and real world become intertwined to the point where the truth – what is, what’s perceived, what’s evoked – is both nowhere and everywhere.
When you think about it, things were so much simpler in the old film noir days. In movies like The Big Sleep, Murder My Sweet, and the aforementioned The Lady from Shanghai, the truth is merely unfathomable. (Mind-boggling on multiple levels, Arthur Ripley’s The Chase is a glaring exception.)
In Bad Education, the Almodóvar Touch mixed with the movie’s omnipresent ambiguities – ethical, sexual, psychological, sensorial – result in a uniquely personal work that functions as a disturbing study of shattered minds, as an indictment against the all too human propensity for hypocritical and abusive behavior, and, just as impressively, as a profound, moving homage to cinema itself.
Bad Education / La mala educación (2004)
Direction & screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar.
Cast: Gael García Bernal. Fele Martínez. Daniel Giménez Cacho. Lluís Homar. Javier Cámara. Nacho Pérez. Raúl García Forneiro. Francisco Boira. Alberto Ferreiro. Francisco Maestre. Petra Martínez. Juan Fernández.
Cameo: Leonor Watling.
Cinematography: José Luis Alcaine. Film Editing: José Salcedo. Music: Alberto Iglesias. Art Direction: Antxón Gómez. Producers: Agustín Almodóvar & Pedro Almodóvar.
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Bad Education movie cast and crew info via the IMDb and other sources.
Gael García Bernal Bad Education movie images: Sony Pictures Classics.
“Bad Education Movie (2004) Review: Almodóvar’s Splendidly Subversive ‘Gay Film Noir’” last updated in April 2021.