Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Fele Martinez, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Javier Cámara, Petra Martínez
Stories within stories can be quite the tricky feat to capture in storytelling without losing the audience, but luckily Bad Education had the guided hand of a master director behind it. Through its different reveals and the way the plot unravels, this film gives you plenty to think about with its exceptional character work.
After years without contact, young film director Enrique (Fele Martínez) meets with someone claiming to be his friend, Ignacio. Now going by Ángel Andrade (Gael García Bernal) and an actor, he proposes a script to Enrique to direct only if he got the starring role. As Enrique gets intrigued by the project, he learns more about Ángel, Ignacio, and why their connection faded all those years ago.
Whenever watching a Pedro Almodóvar film, one must prepare themselves for things to get passionate and for everything not being exactly what they seem. He pulls off something incredibly powerful with Bad Education because of the way it’s layered and how it comes apart to tell an ultimately tragic story about abuse. It uncovers such sensitive areas that are handled with such delicacy in only a way Almodóvar could do. The tone of mistrust gets set with the very first interaction between Ángel and Enrique, which should feel like a friendly reunion but then transforms into something you would not imagine.
The narrative switches between Enrique uncovering the truth, making the film, and the actual story of the script Ángel provided. The way it weaves in and out of each happens with such dramatic flair, as each story serves in completing the other’s narrative. The way it all comes together gave me goosebumps when watching it knowing Almodóvar delivered another tremendous work of art. The story in the script begins with a young Ignacio and Enrique in their all-boys Catholic School. Through their friendship and adolescence, they begin to discover their sexuality, which leads them in a journey they did not expect.
The prevailing theme of abuse runs its way throughout the story, as it shows the different ways it can manifest between people. From the mental, physical, and emotional, it takes a toll on the person experiencing it. Almost every major character in the story has their own iteration of that abuse and it informs the decisions they make later in the narrative. Each character has such intrigue because the decisions may seem nonsensical, but the more we learn about them, it’s evident that it comes from a deep-rooted motivation that drives them. It makes for some fascinating characters to follow because we learn with each step that we don’t really know them, despite spending so much time with them.
The untrustworthiness of Ángel and the intrigue of Zahara in the script comes together because of the tremendous performance by Gael García Bernal. An actor who has worked with some of my favorite Spanish and Latinx directors, he consistently provides excellence on screen and he did so once again while trying to juggle so many different characters. Bernal portrays different characters in the film and they could not be more different in their motivations and the end-goal of their journeys. He provides that skeezy attitude while also having the wonderful ability to portray a covered pain. The sort of pain that one tries to hold back through sheer will but some leaks out to the face where it can easily be seen. This may be the best work in his career, which is quite the statement considering his filmography and performances in Y Tu Mamá También, Amores Perros, and many others. He can shift into any type of role and he shows that versatility in this film alone.
Everything in the film wraps up incredibly well and makes thematic sense with all of the events that occur. When all is settled, each character reveals their true intentions and we get to see the fruits their actions bear. It feels so satisfying in a way because Almodóvar wants the audience to know the truth of what occurred in the story. At times, there’s merit in leaving things ambiguous for the audience to interpret on their own, but this story’s conclusion needed to be told and it all worked tremendously well.
Bad Education has the trademark use of red like in many of Almodóvar’s films and feels like it came from his mind and his tact directing style. It’s a script that weaves through its different storylines effortlessly and conjures up real characters that have suffered in so many different ways. A great collaboration by some incredibly talented people for a tale that will stick with you well after the final credits roll.