Gael Garcia Bernal has a powerful cinematic presence that gets under your skin. He is one of those memorable actors whose performance is burned into your mind from the moment you see him. Other actors like this are Brad Pitt in "Thelma and Louise," Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, Denzel Washington, and character actor Don Cheadle. You know they have something special the moment you see them, and you donít ever forget a certain unique expression in a brilliant scene. Bernal has recently made a big impression in "Motorcycle Diaries." He was also memorable in "Amores Perros" and "Y Tu Mama Tombien." In the new Pedro Almodovar ("Talk to Her," "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down") film, Bernal has a palpable presence.
Bernal plays Juan -- who also plays Igacio, Angel, and Zahara -- a complex character, with aplomb. Fele Martinez is Enrique, Ignacioís first boyhood lover. Ignacio visits Enrique, for the first time in several years since they were forced to separate as school boys. Ignacio takes Enrique, now a filmmaker, a script based on their childhood experiences together. Together they bring an end to the story that began when they were children.
"Bad Education" is cluttered with pointless convolutions that donít have a payoff. But the heart of this film is almost perfect. Very few writer-directors are able to capture a realistic portrayal of childhood sexual abuse and its aftermath as well as Almodovar has done in this film. Juanís whole life is a reaction to sexual abuse by the Father Manolo (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) the principal of his boarding school. Juanís reaction to the abuse is pervasive in every part of his life; it affects his gender identity, mental stability, and choices, including his drug addiction.
Father Manolo is seen by parishioners as pious and respectable. His face looks truly pious in some scenes, and malevolent in others. At the end the priest is a broken down debauched man who can no longer hide malice in his face. Juan also lives a double life and is compelled to place himself in situations in which he is treated badly, unconsciously re-enacting his trauma.
Other films that do an admirable job of treating the subject of sexual abuse are "Nuts" (1987) with Barbara Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss, "Delores Claiborne" (1995) with Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh and the recent "Mystic River," (2003) with Sean Penn.
"Bad Education" touches on the issues of dark double lives, the Catholic Churchís abuse of their immense power, and pedophilia in the priesthood. The twists and turns in the story are too tedious and stilted, requiring too much work to follow. But there are few films that do such an admirable job of realistically depicting a life lived in response to the betrayal by the very person who should have been a trusted protector.
In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 12/29/04
2004, Spanish and Latin with English subtitles/109 minutes