2 min

Almodóvar’s thriller

Less camp, lots of passion

Credit: Xtra files

Bernard Hermann must be smiling in heaven. Hitchcock’s main composer instantly springs to mind during the sumptuous, strident opening chords of Oscar-winner Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Bad Education (La Mala Educación) at TIFF.

From Alberto Inglesias’ score and the graphic opening credit sequence to the spellbinding plot twists and turns, Hitchcock is one among many film references in this sophisticated thriller.

And homos will smile from their own bit of heaven watching Gael García Bernal, the sexy star of Y Tu Mamá También, perform in drag, suck cock and get fucked. Gymnastics aside, Bernal gives a riveting performance as Angel, an actor who hustles his way onto the next film by a celebrated filmmaker Enrique Goded (played by Fele Matínez).

Apparently, the two knew each other back at a Catholic boarding school and Angel arrives at Enrique’s Madrid office in 1980 with a type-written short story inspired by their nascent love affair at the school and the abuse Angel, then named Ignacio, suffered at the hands of the principal, Father Manolo. In the story, a blackmail scheme is cooked up by Angel years later, who, by then, has become a transsexual performing Sarita Montiel numbers; the story itself is the weapon. Enrique uses Angel’s story as the basis of his next movie.

Add to these layers numerous others of deception and you’ve got the perfect vehicle for Almodóvar to refract faith, power and the nature of storytelling through his kaleidoscopic vision.

While stylistic flourishes still flare, this film shows Almodóvar continuing his shift away from camp theatrics to exploring camp’s component parts. In Bad Education, he looks at how people rely on a patchwork of fictions – some imposed from without, like religion and movies, and others originating from within, like the lies we tell ourselves and those around us – to approach the truth.

And, without spoiling the ending, Almodóvar makes a determined comparison between the role of the filmmaker and the role of the priest: each wielding incredible power through both the seductive fictions they disseminate and the physical power they hold over individuals under their sway.

During one amazing sequence, the young Ignacio sings “Moon River” while Father Manolo accompanies on the guitar. Other schoolboys cavort in the river nearby. Ignacio looks longingly at the river while the padre looks longingly, desperately at the boy. Ignacio just want to jump in the river with the others but the possibility of such simple pleasure is about to be stripped away. He says later that, from that moment, he knew he’d always be divided.

Queers standing outside, watching ourselves, abuse survivors feeling divorced from their own bodies, post-modern alienation… with Bad Education, Almodóvar tries to heal a haunting, spiritual breach. It’s a fascinating journey told with mystery and passion.

* Bad Education screens at the Elgin at 9:30pm on Tue, Sep 14.