Film review: Bad Education a deep offering from Pedro Almodóvar

Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives TV & Film Critic

SAN FRANCISCO — Just to be clear, this is a review of the 2004 Spanish drama, not the 2012 British comedy series or the soon-to-be released gangster move of the same title.

When I look for films that have transgender characters or themes, I do a Google search and look to lists from various sites and blogs. Usually I find the same movies and once in a while something I haven’t heard of, and those are the ones I focus on. Bad Education is my own discovery. I knew Pedro Almodóvar often has transgender and transvestite characters in his films, and Bad Education has both.

It’s 1980, Enrique Gaded (Fele Martinez) is a young and successful film director. The movie opens with him and his personal assistant, Martín (Juan Fernández). They are trying to come up with an idea for a new movie. They are interrupted by a knock on the door. The caller is a handsome young man, an actor, who wishes to speak with Enrique. At first turned away by Martín, he introduces himself as an old chum from school, Ignacio Rodriguez, now known by the stage name Angel. Enrique is pleased to see him, but comments how much his appearance has changed, especially with the full beard he is sporting. They were very close in school, but haven’t seen each other in 16 years.

Ignacio is, like most actors, looking for work. Enrique has none for him, but before he leaves he asks Enrique to read a script he has written with the lure that the first part is about their days in school together. Enrique dismisses him, but reads the script. Ignacio was his first love, so he wants to know what Ignacio has to say about them.

Thus begins a movie within a movie as Enrique remembers the events of long ago. The script adds more recent fictional ones as well. Ignacio/Angel is seeking to complete her transition.

Angel is living full time as a woman and supports herself and her heroin habit working as a drag performer, turning tricks and robbery. After this night’s performance and trick, she and her partner Paquito (Javier Cámara) go to the chapel of the school she and Enrique attended as children. It appears that stealing the silver altar pieces is their intent, which they do, but Angel wants to have a word with the priest Padre Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho) she knew from school. This is the beginning of a twisted tale of love, sex, blackmail and murder. All is not how it appears at the beginning.

The film does use some of the stereotypes that make people cringe today, but there are many cultural reasons for this. The film was made in 2004, which was very different from today’s world. It also moves back and forth between 1980 and the early ’70s in Spain. Spain is a socially liberal country today, but this movie takes place during and immediately after the Franco dictatorship. For perhaps the first time in Spanish history, the doors of the closet had been flung open. Transsexuality was considered a rare aberration, so the film reflects the attitudes of those times. To enjoy this film you’ll need to put aside today’s culture. Bad Education isn’t a comical name; Ignacio/Angel does, indeed, receive a bad education. It leaves him a severely damaged person. I was left wondering whether her transition had more to do with escaping her past or genuine gender dysphoria.

The film is rated NC-17 and given the subject matter, gay and transsexual content sex in Spanish language, it was probably in American theatres for a heartbeat. It also contains pedophilia, physical and sexual abuse by priests’ drug addiction and murder.

The film is a mystery wrapped in enigma. I wandered through it wondering just how the beginning came , which isn’t revealed until the end. I loved the movie. Like all of Almodóvar films, it is beautifully shot, but the lively happy settings are revealed in contrast to a very dark and twisted story. It’s also very deep. I could see the story on several different levels,all of which are thought-provoking. Given the content, if you don’t find any of the above triggering, see this movie. It’s an artfully constructed film.

In Spanish with subtitles

Available on Amazon Instant Video, $2.99

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