A friend of mine lent me her DVD of this ages ago when she found out I’d never seen any Pedro Almodóvar movies, and also that I’d fallen in love with Javier Cámara in The Young Pope. But other than that he had a role in this, I knew absolutely nil about this movie when I sat down to watch it. When I say she lent me a DVD, I mean just the disc, in a clear plastic case. I didn’t know anyone else in the cast, and I sure did not know the PLOT. Which turns out to be a super queer film-within-a-film mystery crime thriller, each of these elements surprising me by turn!
For those that want a little more framework than I had: Pedro Almodóvar’s La mala educación (‘Bad Education’) takes place in Spain in the 1960s and ’70s. It stars Gael García Bernal and an array of long-faced, sad-eyed men. It was saddled with an NC-17 rating that I’m certain it would not have if it were released today instead of in 2004. That said, the movie deals quite frankly with homosexuality, transsexuality, clerical abuse of young boys, drug addiction, and metafiction (cw for metafiction). Javier Cámara plays an actor playing a trans woman* nightclub performer/petty thief and is sublime. Gael García Bernal plays possibly three roles, it could be argued, but perhaps most distinctively another trans woman named Zahara.
It was while watching the whole range of his performance in this, including his beautiful made-up face smiling under a wavy blonde wig, that it occurred to me that Gael García Bernal is the Mexican Cillian Murphy. Or maybe I mean Cillian Murphy is the Irish Gael García Bernal. Or they’re some kind of linked fae pair, as I’m looking at their IMDb pages now and their careers have tracked along on remarkably matched paths—both getting a lead in a feature around 2001, Murphy’s own trans role in Breakfast on Pluto coming out just one year after La mala educación, both diversifying from film to take the lead in a streaming service TV series 10 years later…my god what have I stumbled into…
Anyway. Anyway! Bad Education is a movie with A LOT TO UNPACK, but I’m hampered by my reluctance to reveal various plot details that completely rocked me when I watched it. So, vaguely, various essay topics for your film classes: identity, the truthfulness of memory, the truthfulness of art, What Is Art, Gael García Bernal doing those pushups. That last is the one I’d probably write, because it has the shape of a joke but there are a lot of places you can go off to with that as(s) a starting point.
Anyway again. Carolina was right, I love Almodovar and didn’t even know it. I’m now going to watch five more of his movies.
*This is an interesting case in the Cis Men Playing Trans Women history, as Bernal and Cámara are playing actors playing these roles, and in 1980 when it takes place, absolutely would men have been cast. I give this a pass. However, there is also another cis man playing a trans woman at a different level of the narrative where I would have wanted that role to go to a trans actress—but allowing of course that a movie made 24 years on from 1980 was still 15 years ago from today, when morally responsible casting is still an uphill battle.