Midway through Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education,” there is a scene where two schoolboys go to a local cinema and watch a rather florid melodrama starring their favorite actress, Sara Montiel. While commenting on how beautiful she is, the boys quietly slip their hands into each other’s pants and begin to m********e each other. The audience does not see the actual hand job (much of the scene is filmed from the rows behind the boys, so their backs are to the camera), but their physical actions are clearly unmistakable and their dialogue in subsequent scenes confirms what took place. The boys are supposed to be 10 years old.
I don’t get offended very easily when it comes to movies, but I am seriously offended with “Bad Education” and this grotesque exploitation of children. What makes it all the more shocking is that pedophilia is a main plot point here, yet the filmmaker himself seems to be practicing the sin he is preaching against.
But then again, “Bad Education” is such a bad film that it is easy to see why Almodovar inserted this horrible shock into the story. Clearly the audience has little reason to pay attention to a cluttered, foolish and incoherent endeavor and a bit of outrageous action would surely wake up those whose minds have wandered from the screen.
The film is centered on a 1980 reunion between Enrique, a successful filmmaker (Fele Martinez), and Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal), a struggling actor. Both men were friends in school, but they’ve not seen each other in 16 years. Ignacio, who keeps insisting that he be called Angel (his stage name), gives Enrique a story based on his life as a possible film, with the insistence that Ignacio play himself.
The film then switches into Ignacio’s story, which finds him working as a drag queen in a sleazy club. Ignacio, in his distaff persona, tracks down a pedophile priest at the school which he and Enrique attended when they were 10 years old. Ignacio sets up a blackmail extortion plot in the priest’s office, and then the film goes further back to the childhood period where the priest repeatedly molests him, and where he and Enrique have their touchy-feely fun in the movie theater.
A severe and incomprehensible plot twist suddenly emerges, and I cannot state more without ruining the second half of the film. But then again, how can one ruin something which is already a mess? The film almost plays like a parody of Almodovar’s classics, complete with gender bending, family secrets, lots of gay sex and drug use, references to older (and better) movies, and stylized violence. And the big secret which drives the second half of the film (and also opens up yet another plot twist which is equally absurd) is so patently ridiculous that it can inspire wonder if Almodovar actually has any contact with real people and genuine conversation.
If Almodovar is not paying attention to details, he is paying too much attention to handsome Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal. Almodovar uses Garcia Bernal the way Douglas Sirk used Lana Turner in the 1950s: posing him in the most outlandishly stylish and campy situations. Garcia Bernal gets to wear a variety of hairstyles and clothing (including drag, which is not flattering to him), and too frequently he can be found in as little clothing as possible. We get to see him doing push ups while clad only in gym shorts, swimming in his white jockey briefs (he emerges from the pool and camera zooms in on his crotch), and engaged in a high quantity of gay sexual encounters (including an anal sex interlude with Fele Martinez which is so badly edited that it is obvious the actors weren’t even in the same building when they were shooting their orgasmic howls).
Almodovar is so fixated with Garcia Bernal that he gives the rest of his cast almost nothing to do. Martinez, who is nominally the co-star of the story, is absent from long stretches of the film. When he shows up, he does little but look pensive and comment on the nonsense swirling around him. The rest of the cast seems goes overboard with the hammiest acting in any recent ensemble, lead by an eye-rolling and grimacing Daniel Gimenez-Cacho as the predator priest and Francisco Boira as a huffy transvestite junkie. Mack Sennett’ films had more subtle acting.
Oddly enough, the film’s title sequence calls to mind the title sequence to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” even though there’s nothing in “Bad Education” to recall that 1960 classic. But “Bad Education” is such garbage that taking a shower at the Bates Motel is a more appealing alternative.