Home #Hwoodtimes Almodóvar’s BAD EDUCATION: Erotic Role-Playing in a Stylized Murder Mystery

Almodóvar’s BAD EDUCATION: Erotic Role-Playing in a Stylized Murder Mystery

Gael García Bernal as transvestite Zahara in the film

By Jim Gilles

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 4/25/22 – Screening at the Motion Picture Academy Museum on Saturday, April 24, at part of a month-long retrospective of the films of Pedro Almodóvar was Bad Education (La mala educación, Spain, 2004) – focuses on two reunited childhood friends and lovers caught up in a brilliantly stylized murder mystery. Coming on the heels of the Spanish filmmaker’s Oscar-winning Talk to Her (2002) and All About My Mother (1999), Bad Education is the story of two priest-abused boys who become lost men is also Almodóvar’s most personal film to date. Bad Education received critical acclaim, and was seen as a return to Almodóvar’s dark stage, placing it alongside films such as Matador (1986) and Law of Desire (1987).  Raw with Almodóvar’s own feelings about sex, sin, the Catholic Church and the healing power of cinema. In one scene, the pubescent boys go to a movie house and jerk each other off while watching Spanish sex icon Sarita Montiel.

Gael García Bernal as Angel Ignacio arrives in office of flm director Enrique

Bad Education hides its complex structure under the shimmering surface of a decadent film noir. It’s 1980 and film director Enrique Goded (Fele Martnez) gets a visit from Ignacio (Gael García Bernal), the boyhood pal he hasn’t seen since 1964. Ignacio has a script based on those whack-off days at school when Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho) fondled the boys. Ignacio (the prime object of the priest’s abuse) grows up to become Zahara (also Gael García Bernal), a transvestite working clubs with his pal Paca (the hilarious Javier Cámara) and blackmailing the priest for his sins. When Enrique decides to make the film with Ignacio, reality and fantasy collide.

Father Manolo (Daniel Giméne Cacho) confronted by Ignacio as Zahara at the boys’ boarding school

Almodóvar mixes Hitchcock with Double Indemnity, a song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and countless other movie references into a hotblooded tale of deception and murder. Gael García Bernal, in and out of drag, gives a juicy, jolting performance as the corrupt soul of a mesmeric movie that offers temptations impossible to resist. The story involves a young movie director named Enrique (Fele Martínez) who is visited one day by Ignacio (Gael García Bernal).

Enrique (Fele Martínez) in his office as a film director

Ignacio has written a story he wants Enrique to read. Enrique would ordinarily not be interested, but he learns that his visitor is the Ignacio – the boy who was his first adolescent love, back in school, and that the story is set in their school days and involves Ignacio being sexually abused by a priest at the school. Indeed, he permitted the abuse in order to get Enrique out of some trouble: “I sold myself for the first time that night in the sacristy.”

Frightened boys Ignacio (Nacho Pérez) & Enrique (Raúl García Forniero) caught in bathroom together by Father Manolo

The film within the film allows Almodóvar to show transgressive sexual behavior at a time during Franco’s fascist regime in Spain when it was illegal and so twice as exciting. Sex is a given in an Almodóvar movie, anyway. It’s what his characters do. His movies are never about sex but about consequences and emotions. In Bad Education, he uses straight and gay (and for that matter, transvestite and transsexual) as categories which the “real” characters and the “fictional” characters use as roles, disguises, strategies, deceptions or simply as a way to make a living.

Gael García Bernal as transvestite Zahara in the film-within-a-flm

Most likely Almodóvar was thinking of Hitchcock’s Vertigo in making the movie and was fascinated by the idea of a man asking a woman to pretend to be the woman he loves, without knowing she actually is the woman he loves. When she’s not playing that woman, she’s giving a performance – in his life, although it works the other way around in hers.

Angel (as Ignacio, played by Gael García Bernal) has ignited Enrique’s passion from years past

In Almodóvar’s story, the Hitchcockian identity puzzle is even more labyrinthine, because the past depicted in Ignacio’s screenplay is not quite the past either Ignacio or Enrique remembers, and, for that matter, although Enrique loved Ignacio only 15 years ago, he doesn’t think Ignacio looks much like Ignacio anymore. “Zahara,” the drag queen, begins to take on a separate identity of his/her own, and then the guilty priest turns up with his own version of events.

Final conversation between Angel (Juan Ignacio) and former priest Father Manolo in the street

Almodóvar likens his plot to our quasi-narcissistic relationship to movies. We respond most to films that reflect our deepest aesthetic and emotional passions and notions of the world. So, when Enrique discovers – semi-spoiler alert – that Ignacio isn’t who he says he is, he continues the relationship because it’s easier on his conscience to accept that Ignacio turned into someone who looks like Gael García Bernal and not the ostensibly fictional junkie transexual from The Visit. And if truth is stranger than fiction in Bad Education, Enrique hopes to make it sell.

Enrique (Fele Martínez) looking lustily at Ignacio Angel (Gael García Bernal) from the swimming pool

Almodóvar wants to intrigue and entertain us, and he certainly does, proving along the way that Gael García Bernal has the same kind of screen presence that Antonio brought to Almodóvar’s earlier movies. For that matter, as Zahara, he also has the kind of presence that Carmen Maura brought to Law of Desire. The movie is not an attack on sexually abusive priests, nor does it have a statement to make about homosexuality. It’s really more about erotic role-playing: About the roles we play, the roles other people play, and the roles we imagine them playing and they imagine us playing. If Almodóvar is right, some of our most exciting sexual experiences take place entirely within the minds of other people.