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A Spanish Labyrinth:
The Films of Pedro Almodovar

. "Bad Education" (aka, "La Mala Educacion")
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Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is well established on the world's screens as a filmmaker with a singular vision and patented style. "All About My Mother" from 1999 won him the Oscar for best foreign film and the director prize at the Cannes film festival. But the thing that put him in contention for all the success and recognition is his prior work, a lineup of colorful, sexy farces that drew increasing interest to his assured hand with flamboyant character, the melodramatic flourish and the comedically unexpected.

His latest production takes his more recent autobiographical tendency into a different part of his life, into the titillatingly taboo world and culture of the homosexual. Where he might once have realized the career risk of venturing into this territory he seems now, with an assured position and a body of work, to present this subject matter without fear of condemnation or discoloration of his established place among filmmaking elites. Clearly, it is a world that's natural to him, but it's not likely to find a wide audience that's comfortable with it.

Give me "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," or "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" anytime. To me, there's a world of difference in effect between closeups of genitalia of one sex or the other one. The effect here is a decided turnoff, despite a very rich palate of storytelling detail and fine performances. For this one viewer, distaste overwhelms appreciation.

In fact, it contains an extraordinary and memorable moment when Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," "The Motorcycle Diaries") takes the stage as an female impersonator. I haven't seen this done as well since William Hurt's turn in Hector Babenco's "Kiss of the Spiderwoman" in 1985. To me, it's a moment of acting transendence great enough to put Bernal into the talent stratosphere.

Would that his talents were put to less homo-erotic use and not so explicitly convincing. In a story of identity deceptions through time (and dizzying flashback), he plays three roles (Ignacio aka Angel, Juan, Zahara) in the Almodovar mixup of fact and fiction in his recounting of sexual abuse by priests during the Franco era.

All performances are top notch with special recognition going to Fele Martinez as Enrique Goded and to Nacho Perez and Raul Garcia Forneiro as young Ignacio and young Enrique.

Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine effectively realizes the Almodovar color vibrancy that is an appropriate visual design of a stylized, complex melodrama that I fully appreciated in terms of filmmaking virtuosity. I was, however, put off by its submergence into a sexual culture dense with political strategies, power plays and self-promotional misbehaviors.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The DVD (Original Uncut NC-17 Edition)

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Fele Martinez and Gael Garcia Bernal
Director Enrique and actor-writer Ignacio

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