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Bad Education: An Unwatchable Masterpiece

July 14, 2006

When I started this blog in early April, I made a promise to myself that henceforth, I would write about every movie I saw. But I saw Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education more than two weeks ago, and only now am I getting around to write about it. And it’s not because of the July 4 break–I started working on a review a few days before vacation hit. What’s the problem? I need to watch the movie a second time–which also isn’t an issue because it’s on HBO On Demand–but I’m as likely to watch Bad Education again as I am to give myself a wedgie. It’s not that Bad Education is, um, bad. In fact, it’s probably a masterpiece.

Here’s the deal: I’ve come to realize there are two kinds of great films. There are those you never tire of, and there are those you watch once and find it a chore to watch again. In my mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Goodfellas and Casablanca fall under this first category; Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, Schindler’s List, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now fall under this second category. Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education belongs in this second group.

As its reviews suggest, Bad Education is pretty much a flawless film. Almodovar has become as much a master of his medium as Hitchcock or Hemingway. The acting is fantastic across the board, including the children, a particularly difficult group of buggers to direct; the story is complex, sophisticated and character-driven; the themes are rich and challenging; the cinematography is simultaneously gorgeous and efficient. Much like Almodovar’s last two movies, All About My Mother and Talk To Her, there are few to no mistakes in casting, directing, acting or writing. So what makes the prospect of rewatching it so unappetizing? I don’t quite know how to put this, but it’s just too gay.

Here’s a short rollcall of some major events in Bad Education: two young boys jerk each other off in a dark movie theater; Gael Garcia Benal in drag essentially rapes a passed out man (after giving him a blowjob in a parking lot); a priest molests a young boy; Benal films himself having sex with a sketchy older man; a pre-op transsexual with great tits shoots up on heroine. There’s no question that Almodovar masterfully presents this subject matter. It’s just that I can’t relate.

It very well may be that if you placed Bad Education and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind under the microscope of intense critical rigor, you’d find that Almodovar’s film is a more spotless work than Gondry and Kauffman’s. But that doesn’t change the fact that I could relate to the emotions on display in Eternal Sunshine, I knew people like the characters, I lived through versions of some of the events in Eternal Sunshine. As long as I live, I’m pretty sure I will not meet a murderous child-molesting former priest.

The irony is, as much as I’m not inclined to rewatch Bad Education, it’s also one of those movies, like Vertigo or The Sixth Sense, that demands a second viewing. There’s a major plot twist in the third act that drastically changes the meaning of the first two acts, and the only way you could fully understand its ramifications is if you watch the movie more than once.

Two weeks later, I still marvel at the way the construction of the narrative opens up all sorts of fascinating questions about memory, identity and creative authority. A viewer doesn’t learn this until later in the movie, but the whole first section of the movie is actually a movie-within-a-movie. Gael is an actor named Angel. In the movie-within-a-movie, he’s playing his brother Juan, working off a script that he wrote about his brother’s tragic life. But the movie is directed by Enrique, who was in love with Angel’s brother when the two were boys at Catholic school. So the movie-within-the-movie we’re watching is a distortion of reality filtered through numerous creative, emotionally biased consciousnesses: there’s the subject of the story (Juan), the writer of the story (Angel), the director of the movie and rewriter of the screenplay (Enrique) and the actor playing the lead part (Angel again). Through the movie-within-the-movie’s development, the creative process is variously portrayed as cathartic, transformative, deceptive and destructive.

There’s a lot more to this disturbing masterpiece, but unless you’re a fan of beautifully produced gay porn, you probably won’t have the stomach to figure it all out. (Make it about lesbians next time, though, Pedro, and I’ll watch it as many times as you’d like…)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Brad Glaser permalink
    July 15, 2006 4:18 pm

    So, I should rethink the “Queer as Folk” box set as your birthday present?

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