Article – Pedro Almodóvar

The Headmaster Ritual

(Originally published in Inform Magazine, May 2004)

Pedro Almodóvar is one of the world’s most distinctive and easily recognisable directors. His latest film is a slight detour from his absurd melodramas, being an almost autobiographical tale of schooldays.

To date Pedro Almodóvar has skirted a fine line between humour and pathos. He is one of those filmmakers who is unable to make a serious point without undermining it with a morbid sense of humour (think of the variously expressed histrionics of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown for example, or the surreal silent film sequence in Talk To Her), or indeed to tell a simple comic story without perverse brushes with melodrama; Talk To Her was the story of two girlfriends in a coma (not for nothing is Almodóvar sometimes known as the Morrissey of cinema) which the director dares to present in a serious manner.

Almodóvar’s new film is called Bad Education (La mala educación in his native Spanish tongue) and it is probably his most personal film yet, being the story of two friends growing up in a Catholic semenery in Franco-era Spain before one of them goes on to become a filmmaker. Despite this, Almodóvar claims it’s not entirely based on his own experiences.

“La mala educación is a very intimate film. It’s not exactly autobiographic, i.e. it’s not the story of my life in school, nor my education in the early years of ‘la movida’ [the Spanish post-communist new wave of filmmaking], even though these are the two backgrounds in which the argument is set. My memories have definitely paid a heavy burden in writing the story – after all, I’ve lived those times and scenarios.”

Although he is reticent to claim the film is based on real events from his life, this is a film that Almodóvar has been trying to get made for a long time now. In fact he was due to make it before Talk To Her, but the unavailability of certain actors meant he had to do the other film first. “I definitely had to make La mala educación. I had to get rid of it before it turned into an obsession. The story had been in my hands for over 10 years already, and I knew I could still wait another ten years. Due to the multiple combinations possible, putting the writing of La mala educación to an end was only realizable once the film was shot, edited and mixed.”

This flexibility of story is most evident in the intricate structure of the final film, with lots of flash-backs and -forwards and a general feeling of confusion to begin with until you get used to the technique. This has already split critics and viewers down the middle – in typical Almodóvar style – before we even get to the decidedly dark subject matter. “It’s a noir, or that’s how I see it, at least,” says Almodóvar in all seriousness about a film that contains, amongst other things, a large amount of cross dressing. “A noir film may show not a single cop, or gun. It may not even have any physical violence attached to it, but it definitely must have lies and fatality, casualties usually impersonated in a woman: the femme fatal.

“In La mala educación, the femme fatal is an enfant terrible. The role played by [the male] Gael García Bernal puts into practice samples from Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Greer, Jean Simmons (Angel Face), Joan Bennett (Scarlet Street), Ann Dvorak, Mary Windsor, Lisabeth Scott, Veronica Lake and many other woman-shaped spells.”

Bad Education has already attracted a fair amount of criticism for its portrayal of that notoriously prickly group, the Catholic Church. Almodóvar doesn’t spare any images of the treatment he and others went through during the sixties. But he doesn’t want people to think this is revenge. “La mala educación is not a settlement with the priests that ‘miseducated’ me, neither with the Clergy in general. If I needed to take vengeance upon them I wouldn’t have waited forty years to do it. I’m not interested in the Church, not even as a rival.”

The most obviously Almodóvar-esque part of Bad Education is where the characters find redemption from the past by making a film about it. “There’s a lot of reality in this film, but there’s also a lot of manipulation. Film is manipulation – even documentary film. La mala educación is fiction, but just the few interviews I’ve given so far make me realise that people like the idea of it being autobiographic.”

Bad Education is released on May 21st

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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