The last film in my 2018 To Be Watched challenge is Bad Education, written and directed by Pedro Almodovar. Released in 2004 the film is set in the late ’70’s, a time when Almodovar was a key figure in the counter cultural movement La Movida Madrileña, that signalled the emergence of a new Spanish identity, free from Franco’s oppression.
An aspiring actor Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal), visits his old school friend Enrique (Fele Martinez), now a film producer, with a story he has written called ‘The Visit’. He asks Enrique to read it with a plan that he should play a leading character. ‘The visit’ is about their past in a Catholic boarding school. The film is made and becomes a film within the film, but it also opens up layers of storytelling, about reality and impersonation, about rewriting the past, asking how much we edit our own stories in order to control them. The past and present leak into eachother, with Bernal playing different characters in different time frames and it becomes a thrilling mystery.
The multiple levels of illusion, fantasy and reality reminded me of Mulholland Drive,“Nothing is less erotic than an actor looking for work” says Enrique, with the implied opposite about an actor in work, the same glossy fiction winning over the messy, and in both films , descent into drug addiction, of reality. But whereas in Mulholland Drive the authority figure could be seen as the film industry here it’s the Catholic Church, always present with the lingering trauma of Franco’s government.
But this bleakness of authority and oppression is set against a riot of colour. Not the joyful, sugary pastels of The Umbrella’s of Cherbourg, but hot, clashing colours that sink you into the 70’s. This is a celebration of the freedom of expression that characterised this period in history. It’s about creativity, a burgeoning film industry, a sense of liminal and transgressive sexual identity, drag queens and punks, role-playing and melodrama.
So that’s my last film – thank you to my film buffs for putting together this list for me! They asked me which was my favourite and I plumped for ‘M’, it’s just not the kind of film I would ever have chosen to watch but it was absolutely fabulous – plus I learnt about German Expressionism, which has gone on to influence everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to Tim Burton. What I do think is interesting is the change from the first half of the list which was all about the techniques of film making to the gorgeously stylish films of the golden age and the ’60’s and then these last films which focus on identity and self-expression. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this mini challenge, watching films from around the world is such a rich medium for reflection on human nature, we see what makes us different but at the same time the same. I’m inspired to watch more in translation as well as read!