BAD EDUCATION written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, produced by Augustín Almodóvar, with Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez, Javier Cámara, Daniel Giménez-Cacho. 110 minutes. A Mongrel Media release. Opens Friday (January 14). Subtitles. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
As if channelling Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries wasn't bold enough, here comes Gael García Bernal tottering across the screen in high heels and a skirt.
Actually, tottering is way off base. García Bernal works those heels like a catwalk queen in Bad Education. Playing both a smoking-hot tranny and a brooding hunk actor, he's the complete Pedro Almodóvar man. "It was fun; it was very liberating," García Bernal says during a patio interview at the Toronto International Film Festival. "It was about finding that inner transvestite that we all have."
It's mid-morning, and he speaks in a slow rasp, clearly tired. Short and small-framed, he looks fragile.
"Forgive me if my English and my... my narrative is not so good," he apologizes. "I've gotta say that I'm incredibly toasted. I feel like an ashtray."
It's been a busy year. After bursting onto the international film scene in Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También, García Bernal hit a middling patch, with only The Crime Of Father Amaro to keep the fires burning.
But now The Motorcycle Diaries is making him a full-blown lefty pin-up. Bad Education cranks up the heat even more, turning García Bernal into a love object for all comers.
In telling the complex story of two men, Almodóvar uses his considerable powers to eroticize the Mexican actor. The tale is set partly in 80s Madrid, with García Bernal playing ex-lover to a filmmaker who shares more than a few traits with Almodóvar himself. But don't call it autobiographical.
"Pedro is very quiet in that sense," says García Bernal. "Whatever is deeply personal, he will be the only person who knows."
In person García Bernal looks less like the Latin hottie fans may want him to be and more like an earnest student radical, although an unreasonably fashionable one. He wears a torn, army-green fatigue jacket that could be surplus or could be Prada. He's pinned a blue and green peace-sign button to it.
He projects the same mix of eagerness and sensitivity that shows up in his best performances. More than once he insists that all he wants is to be "free" to "be able to do whatever I want."
That won't always be easy for an actor who is lusted after both for his translucent eyes and for his potential to bridge the film-industry gulf between art house and mainstream. He's aware that Hispanic actors regularly get reduced by media and fans to spicy-sexy clichés, but he refuses to let that influence his acting.
"As an actor, you don't play that," he insists. Being sexy, he says, only works when it's a consequence of something else. Otherwise, it's there only for effect.
"You know, 'Now do it sexy, now do it happy, now do it sad, now do it vulnerable.' That's shallow acting. It's a fake, simple way of putting things."
Pushing "sexy" out of his mind is also a way, he says, of staying sane.
"I wake up with myself every day," he says. "Imagine how fucked up it would be if I woke up thinking I'm so very sexy."
BAD EDUCATION (Pedro Almodóvar) Rating: NNNN
Pedro Almodóvar continues to deliver the mature mood and rhythm of All About My Mother and Talk To Her. In a story that taps the director's own history, Gael García Bernal plays a young actor who remeets his childhood friend and lover, now a film director. That throws them back into the story of their childhood relationship with a priest, and later a crime of passion. The structure is tricky, and the tone shifts from melodrama to thriller, but Bad Education unfolds with grace. García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries) gives his most impressive performance to date, convincing both as an inarticulate young hunk and as a florid drag queen. And it's gratifying to see Almodóvar recreate the candy-coloured 80s of his early films, but in richer emotional tones.