Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bad Education

"Bad Education" aka "La mala educación" (Pedro Almodóvar, 2005) You immediately begin to snicker when the credits come up; it's Almodóvar in full Hitchcock mode with a Saul Bass-inspired credit sequence that rips across the screen bi-secting it again and again, indicating that the film will be about Hitchcockian dualities. But Almodóvar cleverly takes it a few steps further, dividing and dividing until you're not sure what's real.

It is, after all, just a movie.

A director (Fele Martínez) is in a creative doldrum, searching through tabloids for a story to inspire a new film. Fortunately, there's a knock at the door and in walks old school chum Ignacio Rodriguez (Gael García Bernal). But more than that, Ignacio was the director's first love in Catholic grade school. Their initial welcome and wave of nostalgia is tamped down when Ignacio tells him he's an actor and has a story to peddle. "There's nothing less erotic than an actor looking for work," says the director after the door has hit his friend in the butt on his way out.

Then he reads the story (illustrated by Almodóvar by changing the film's aspect ratio—not the last time he'll do that in this film). It's of Ignacio's grade school crush on the director and his molestation by lit teacher Fr. Manolo, and Ignacio's further blackmailing of the priest for his past crimes.

Intrigued with the story, and with just a touch of revenge in mind, the director decides to film the script, even allowing Ignacio—who insists on being called by his stage name "Angel"—to star.

Then things get complicated in a very bizarre fashion. For the director, recreating a story twice removed proves complicated. Even more, he finds the exception to the rule of truth being stranger than fiction.

Almodóvar loves film, not only for its story-telling ability, but also as its illustrative of other realities and the imagination, which he exploits in this film to the fullest. But, more, the man loves movies; in "Bad Education" he not only pays homage to Hitchcock and his disciple Brian DePalma (who could have easily made this story), but also Billy Wilder, Jean Renoir, and Mario Camus. That love fosters this movie within a movie within a movie until reality and fiction telescopes down a long rectangular rabbit-hole. At what point do fictions within fictions stop reflecting reality?

As Hitchcock famously said, "Ingrid, it's only a movie!"

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