With a touch of cover-line hyperbole, the Good Weekend recently hailed filmmaker Pedro Almodovar as a genius. Well, if there is a film that testifies to that appellation then it is certainly his most recent, Bad Education. The film revolves around the story of two young boys and the priest who abused them as children. It moves across time and perspective, playing with different points of view on these events and their effects. It is intricate, emotional and funny, it surprises with unexpected twists, it is rich in its political and cultural references but most of all it is marked by the director’s rich multi-layered approach to storytelling.
Then there is Gael Garcia Bernal -“ who can take their eyes off him? It is not just his youthful, Latin looks -“ Bernal is a seriously good actor who commands screen attention in even the simplest of set-ups. And Almodovar really puts him through the paces. In a film that tells stories within stories -“ even a film within the film -“ Bernal plays three very different characters, including Zahara, a drug-using, transvestite performer. Almodovar has noted that Bernal’s character is effectively a femme fatale in classic noir terms. Bernal carries this seductress quality back and forth across gender lines and brings to the screen a unique femme/homme fatale.
But the real achievement is that Almodovar and Bernal (and the rest of the cast who all produce wonderful performances) work with these archetypes without giving into stereotypes.
Bad Education is the opposite of a film with good guys and villains, Almodovar writes in notes about the film. In any case, I never judge characters whatever they do. My job is to -˜represent them’, -˜explain them in all their complexity’ and come up with an entertaining spectacle with all that. It isn’t good for a film that the director judges his characters, even if they do atrocious things.