Gael Garcia Bernal by M.BODDi
Is there something abhorrently sexy about a straight man who dresses in drag? Um… NO… and… uh… never. But it does make for an interesting movie, especially when Pedro Almodovar is behind the camera and Gael Garcia Bernal is in front of it. Bad Education is like a really bad Spanish soap opera gone wonderfully wrong. The plot is absolutely ridiculous, the characters are… entertaining. At times, it’s a little bitter-sweet… like the gay sex scenes for example; I think they are necessary because sex is a crucial part of any intimate relationship; therefore, it makes the more movie more realistic and elevates it from its trashy telanovela roots. However, they’re definitely hard to watch, for me at least.
Will The Real Ignacio Please Stand Up? (and Padre Manolo too, while you’re at it…)
In Bad Education, Almodovar explores the complexities of the dual-personalities between actors and the people they actually portray. In the beginning of the movie, filmmaker Enrique Goded gets a visit from a man claiming to be his old classmate Ignacio Rodriguez. He is looking for work, and Goded has no work to give because he is experiencing a creative block. Fortunately Ignacio has written a story based on their tormented childhood at catholic school entitled… The Visit. In The Visit, young Ignacio explains that after the first time Padre Manolo sexually harassed him, his head split into two parts. This image of having two parts to one person repeats itself throughout the entirety of the movie. And if you think about it, drag queens and transvestites perfectly represent this image: being two things at once; a woman trapped in a man’s body.
Each of the main characters [Padre Manolo, Enrique, and Ignacio] are portrayed by two people: the fictional character in The Visit and the real person. The characters in The Visit are completely one-dimensional and watered-down compared to the person they represent in real life. In The Visit, Padre Manolo is just a “regular” priest smitten by the voice of young Ignacio who sings like an angel… and who wouldn’t be… but I mean, this guy takes it a little too far. Enrique is just some drunk guy Ignacio bumps into after work at the local drag spot… he’s completely dismissible in The Visit. And Ignacio [or Zahara as is his stage name] is just a coke-snorting, blackmailing boy in girls’ clothes… and sky-high platform heels… because, you know, it’s 1977. And Almodovar implements some ingenious visual techniques that force you to smirk at even the most sexually explicit scenes. For example, he pixelates Ignacio orally pleasing a passed out Enrique… like how they do on TV when they don’t want to reveal someone’s identity. It’s not entirely ingenious… but I definitely appreciate the reserve and the humor.
The real Ignacio reveals himself later on in the film, and is in fact not the Ignacio who pays a visit to Goded at the beginning of the film. The real Ignacio makes you want to cry. He is a junkie, who does heroine and makes sniffing coke look like child’s play… and he’s an actual transvestite… fake tetas and all. And he does try to blackmail Padre Manolo, who is no longer a priest but married with three children and almost entirely bald. He goes by his real name, Sr. Manuel Berenguer, and upon seeing Ignacio, he loses any interest he previously had, and instead falls for his younger brother Juan who insists on being called Angel Andrade because, “Soy actor” he continuously reminds everyone in the movie. And instead of blackmailing Padre Berenguer as a form of reparations for years of sexual abuse, Ignacio wants one million dollars for plastic surgery. He says, “Looking fabulous costs a lot of money Padre Manolo… I think a million would do it.” Berenguer stalls Ignacio by giving him small amounts of money at a time which Ignacio uses for drugs. Ignacio, Juan, and Berenguer form some sort of complex familial bond, because… well, let’s face it, they’re all completely fucked up.
In The Visit, Zahara spent her entire life plotting her revenge against Padre Manolo; he needed to confront Padre Manolo in order to get rid of his childhood demons; the money seems more like a side note than anything else. I mean, Zahara would never share kind words with Padre Manolo, let alone continuously invite Manolo into his house and even sit and play board games with him. Like many victims of sexual abuse, Ignacio more than tolerates his tormentor and internalizes his feelings of resentment, which almost makes Manolo’s actions acceptable. And being a junkie, he blackmails Manolo for his own selfish and self-destructive reasons.
Juan is probably the most multi-faceted character in the entire movie. He is absolutely mental, and his actions are completely unforgivable, and yet you somehow manage to feel sorry for him. He is not so much gay as he is an opportunist. And when he says he’s an actor, he means it. Juan plays three different characters throughout the film. All at once he portrays a lonely, naïve, conniving, guarded, impatient, impulsive, and ambitious actor who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. But wait, he’s not as diabolical as I am making him seem, he is very much just a young man figuring his life out and happens to really fuck shit up. He is in no way an evil mastermind. Truthfully, I feel sad for him. Mostly because he is so adorable walking around the apartment in short shorts, and eagerly taking notes at a drag show to learn how to act like a man acting like a woman. He doesn’t live in the now, it’s as if this moment doesn’t exist for him… I guess his thought process is: if there is a problem, I’ll solve it now so I can move on to the next thing… it’s always what’s the next thing? And he almost never says the right thing at the right time, and completely disregards how other people feel… because he just doesn’t see it. It’s great in movies where you can see how incomplete a person is and how accurate a portrayal of human nature that represents. And then to not know why or how a person can grow to be like that… it’s… well… you don’t see that in your every day movie. The only thing this film lacks is a healthy heterosexual relationship; although Gael Garcia Bernal does a decent job playing a tranny, there is no gorgeous leading lady.
I think it is important to note that fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier designed the amazing costumes in this film, especially Zahara’s outfit while she performs onstage: a beaded gown complete with the essential parts of the female anatomy.
Designer Jean Paul Gaultier
With this film, Almodovar was a little self-congratulatory. The movie itself is a meta-movie; a film within a film. The main character is a filmmaker, like Almodovar. This makes the audience even more aware that they are watching a movie. It’s like Almodovar is saying, “hey look at me, I made this. And now you know how hard it is to make a good movie.” And I am not mad at him… at all. All literary greats film and legends do this, whether by acting in their own movies, making the main character a reproduction of himself, or even including visual or literary references to his previous masterpieces. Somewhere in Bad Education is a poster of one of Almodovar’s other movies . In the end of the movie, where Almodovar utilizes those cheesy “where are they now?” endings, the filmmaker Goded is “still making films with the same passion.” And Almodovar zooms in on the word passion until it fills up the entire screen. Okay, okay, we get it… you’re a talented and passionate director. Sheesh.
Here are some of Almodovar’s other titles:
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
All About My Mother
Talk To Her