Wednesday, May 5, 2010
The film opens with a six- or seven-minute montage of seemingly arbitrary and sometimes disturbing images, all having to do with film: inner workings of a camera reel, an upside-down animation loop, a slaughtered sheep, a silent comedy, a nail driven through a palm. Credits are jarringly interspliced with still more images. Next, people who appear to be dead begin to move. A young boy gazes at a large-screen image of a woman’s face as it comes into and out of focus, trying to connect with it. The sequence resembles a bizarre dream stream of consciousness. At last, we’re introduced to a solid storyline revolving around 25-year-old, engaged Nurse Alma, a kindly, contented person with optimistic philosophies. Despite her concerns because she’s relatively new to the profession, she is willingly tasked with caring for a new psychiatric patient: Elisabet Vogler, a young actress who, in the middle of a stage performance, suddenly ceased to speak or move, and hasn’t yet recovered from this freeze.
The hospital’s doctor theorizes that Vogler’s problem is that she is trying to escape from real life, tired of putting on masks to play different parts and realizing that this is what everyone does in everyday life. Everyone in the world is an actor. Instead of acting genuinely, they create false personas—so perhaps it is better not to act at all than to act dishonestly. (Of course, according to existentialist philosophy, action is the one necessary objective of life.) She may be fearful of living, or she may be quietly laughing at and watching, judging, or amused by others.The doctor invites Alma to stay with Elisabet in her isolated island cottage, where Alma slowly starts to reveal to her listener—something she realizes she hasn’t truthfully had in a long time--her most personal secrets (a past affair, an abortion, her sexual encounter on the beach with a teenage boy.) As time passes Elisabet seems to absorb not only the words, tales, and confessions but also Alma herself, who wistfully wonders how easy it would be for them to become one another. Bergman is deliberately ambiguous as to whether the two women’s personalities—or personas--are exactly merging together, Elisabeth is transferring herself onto Alma, they are two sides of the same person, or what is happening, precisely. When Alma reads in her patient’s letter to the doctor that Elisabet is “studying” her, she becomes angry, and things start to fall apart—symbolized by a literal onscreen tearing of the film itself. One shot of Alma blurs, fades, and burns away.
Alma struggles to pull away from whatever state of abnormality she's getting herself into with this woman. She begs Elisabeth to speak just once, accusing her of fooling others by merely acting sane, while hiding malicious intentions. When blind Mr. Vogler appears at the house, Alma strangely pretends to be his wife, encouraged by the actress. The climax is a repeated scene, during which Alma delivers a monologue to Elisabet, telling the patient what she believes she knows about her life and feelings--mainly, that Elisabet detests her son because she was terrified of all the changes motherhood could bring to her life, that she had wished for a stillborn child, and now cannot bring herself to even be with him at all. We first see Vogler’s reactions to hearing this; the second time, the camera is on the speaker, Alma. In the end, Alma asserts her own identity and insists that she is not like Elisabet, but one half of each of their faces blends together onscreen to form one visage. (When Bergman first showed that photo to his two stars, each insisted that it was the other's face!) The two are later shown back in the hospital again, and then Elisabet on stage again in ‘Electra.’ Finally, we see them packing up and leaving the cottage, each apparently released to return to her own rightful life.
This film was made in the mid-1960s, amidst a period of turbulence and change throughout the entire world. Art of all kinds, from paintings to movies, underwent transformations and artists began to actually dissect and question their own modes of expression. “Persona” is an example of a product of this self-reflective, self-conscious media. It’s referred to by the term ‘deconstructivist,’ and indeed the illusion is created that the very celluloid of the movie itself is being torn apart (much like the fabric of society.) Artists, including Bergman, endeavored to make evident through their work their own awareness that what they were making was not real, but a sort of representation of reality, physically manipulated by its creators so that the viewer would see what the director wanted him or her to see. Of course the intention of art is to inspire some type of emotion, reaction, or feeling in its audience--and each individual will still naturally form his or her own ideas based upon what they’re being shown. However, reminders of the director’s ultimate control over his vision and the fact that it comes down to material objects are strongly present.
Art is made to generate or convey something; it’s an inherent method of communicating with others. Yet while it has much power to create feelings and thoughts in us, critics of Persona remind us that it does so despite our knowledge that it is not actually real. Bergman seems to find this phenomenon curious—the magic of cinema. He nonetheless studies and breaks it down, looking from all sides, and asking whether films can ever be truly adequate to capture those complexities of reality and of spirit.
Other scenes, such as the ones in which the two women are seeing one another asleep or sharing an odd and intimate nighttime encounter, are ambiguous and, like nearly everything else about this experimentally abstract movie, open to multiple interpretations. Are they only dreams? Are they sexual? Is Elisabeth a vampire of sorts, literally sucking blood from Alma’s arm near the end? Throughout the film that character has been silent and basically unresponsive, yet much was required of the actress (Liv Ullman) in the way of subtly changing expressions to successfully portray this enigmatic woman. The only word we know for certain that we hear Elisabet speak is, “Nothing.” (Otherwise, it’s possible that the nurse has in fact started to speak for her, somehow sensing or knowing or hearing her thoughts and/or verbalizing them on certain occasions.) Alma has begun to question everything in her well-planned and essentially happy life. She starts to ramble on to Elisabet about “everything and nothing.” Is the movie intended to be about everything—or nothing at all?
I first saw Persona in one of my high school Psychology classes, and it stuck with me. Rewatching it really does remind you why it is such a highly regarded, compelling, and enduring classic; one could almost go on forever analyzing it. Through research I learned more about the director, actors, and their interesting relationships, which add a whole new dimension to my understanding of the film. Bergman was attracted to and romantically involved with both Bibi Andersson (first) and then Liv Ullman, and was fascinated by the similarities he saw between them. “Persona” is an artistic, intellectual film that truly is mostly mental—it gets into your head, makes you think, and asks you to try and put it together into your own rendition of Bergman’s unsolvably mysterious motion picture.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
In the backdrop of both of the previous stories has been the activity of a mysterious and scruffy old man, who appears to live on the streets, push a cart about, have several mutts for friends…and also be a hired assassin. As it turns out, this man is known as El Chivo (real name Martin), and he abandoned his wife and daughter (Maru) long ago to head out and try to actively change the world. Now, having failed to do so, he has observed his wife’s funeral and watched his daughter living from afar, observing her life in photographs by sneaking into her bedroom. In the meantime, El Chivo rescues Cofi from the car crash and helps him recover from his injury. Sadly, Cofi’s dog-aggression had been encouraged for so long that the Rottweiler ended up killing all of El Chivo’s other canine friends when left alone with them. Distraught, El Chivo moves to shoot Cofi, but cannot bring himself to hurt the dog.
Valeria lies to the public about her love life--in reality, she’s with a man who’s been having an affair, cheating on his wife, and leaving her for the model. Apparently, Valeria has no problem with any of that, despite Daniel’s daughters; in fact, she openly disrespects his family and considers them stupid. And El Chivo/Martin was a complicated, conflicted person: an idealistic, opinionated, headstrong guerilla who believed in making positive changes in the world; a paid assassin who manipulated and tortured and took human life, but still respected it, and eventually wanted to end his business of killing; a man who had failed as a husband and father but deeply regrets it, and just can’t seem to find the strength to try and reconnect with the only family member he has left.
As a fanatical dog lover, I liked this movie partially due to their significant presence, but naturally found the fighting scenes very difficult to watch--more because of the knowledge that such hideously evil acts occur in real life than anything else. At least, I would very much hope that by the year 2000 no animals would have to be harmed in the making of a movie, even in countries that possibly don’t have a set-monitoring entity equivalent to the American Humane Association. Sadly, this cruelty persists in parts of the world. What I read on the IMDb, however, regarding the dogs being heavily sedated in order to appear dead, was hopefully a harmless truth.
The other technical and narrative aspects of the film were mostly superb as well and synthesized perfectly, from the basic staging of shots to the skillful interweaving of the three plotlines. In particular I felt that it was quite well cast and acted. Each performer (including the dogs) was very real and believable in his or her role, and seemed to have fully inhabited it. The characters felt alive. The slower, more subtle dramatic sequences were counterbalanced by moments of great suspense throughout, meaning that the issue of the film’s potentially being a tad overlong is not an unbearable fault.
Being a big fan of musicals in general, I greatly enjoyed this film, which is the quintessential “masala” movie out of ‘Bollywood.’ (For instance, the second song, in which the main couple comes together at the old fort by the sea, is a prime example of picturisation.) And unlike the standard Broadway- or Hollywood-styled movie musical which may tend to jump rather rapidly from song to song, “Bombay” had more plot substance in between fewer song-and-dance sequences, making it seem more like a regular film which happened to contain some musical numbers inserted at strategic points to further the story and enhance its emotions.
The only Indian (and possibly the only foreign-language) film that I currently own is a 2008 animated feature aptly called “Roadside Romeo,” a joint production of Walt Disney & Yash Raj Films that was created entirely in India and directed by Jugal Hansraj. I love this fun movie and would certainly recommend it to anyone else who enjoyed “Bombay,” because it is essentially a Bollywood musical that replaces human characters with anthropomorphic dogs. Like “Bombay,” the plot revolves around a male main character who falls instantly for his love interest, but must fight to be with her.
Romeo and Laila are basically the Shekhar and Shaila of this animated Indian adventure which pays homage to the 'Bollywood genre.'
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
In “The Peach Orchard,” Kurosawa himself is again represented as a child who follows a mysterious little girl with jingling bells outside of a tea house and is led to what used to be a large orchard of peach trees, which have all been cut down. The boy sees another huge gathering of elaborately costumed people who are in fact the spirits of the trees. Once they see that the boy is truly saddened by the loss of the orchard, and not simply because he likes to eat peaches, the spirits agree to show him the beauty that has been lost. After a ceremonial type of dance the entire orchard of beautiful peach blossoms returns. As the boy watches in wonder, the spirits disappear and he sees the young girl again behind some trees. Following her, he stands before a single tree and admires it. But soon, both the girl and the orchard are gone again, and he is gazing at one lone, small, blooming tree.
“The Tunnel” changes pace by being a dark dream about an adult man walking through a tunnel at night. A war veteran, he is deeply tormented and haunted by survivor’s guilt, symbolized by a snarling guard dog who comes twice to bark at him. The old captain first sees the ghost of one soldier who doesn’t yet know for certain that he died, and wishes to go back to his parents across the river, who he believes are expecting him. Next comes the entire platoon that the man commanded, still completely loyal and obedient to him. He expresses to them his disgust at the stupidity of war, and the pain he feels for having survived while they all perished, a fact for which he blames himself. Finally, he sends them back so that they can cross over to the other side and rest in peace.
“Mt Fuji in Red” & “The Weeping Demon” both deal with nuclear devestation. In the first, nuclear power plants explode as Mt Fuji erupts, causing mass chaos and precipitating a sort of apocalypse for Japan (at least.) Most of the small country’s population throw themselves into the sea to escape slow, horrific deaths. We see five people left: a woman with her young daughter and infant, an older, knowledgeable man, and the younger one representing the director. The older man, now obviously full of regret, was involved with the power plants and identifies the poisonous colored clouds of deadly ions, and the mutations they each cause. The woman is infuriated at the foolishness of believing that this could be controlled without ever leading to such a catastrophe, and that her children will never even get to live their lives thanks to the disaster. Knowing that he situation is hopeless, the older man departs into the ocean, and the younger one pitifully removes his jacket and tries to waft away the red cloud that is enveloping them while guarding the woman, who in turns attempts to shield her kids. Of course these last futile efforts to cling to life will be in vain.
In the second follow-up dream, a lone stranger wanders through a wasteland and encounters a humanoid creature in rags that was once human but has now become an ugly single-horned demon. The demon shows the man giant mutant dandelions and other strange plants that are the only things that now grow there. It explains how all of this total destruction of nature came to pass—once again, through the stupidity, arrogance, and carelessness of mankind—and that other 2-and 3-horned demons may soon kill him. The demon doesn’t want to die, but the other ones are doomed to immortality, suffering forever in this hideous land of their own creation, paying for their sins. The human is taken to see the other demons, all writhing and screaming in unspeakable agony. But the first demon’s horn is becoming more painful as well, and it begins to chase the man, asking if he’d like to be a demon too.
The last dream, “Village of the Watermills,” takes place in an opposite kind of setting: a gorgeous place full of healthy plant life and clear streams. The younger man wandering through sees children placing flowers on a rock as a memorial for another visitor who once died there. He then speaks to an elderly man who’s assembling a new wheel for a watermill. The old man—the last representation of Kuroawa—tells him all about life in his idyllic little ‘Watermill Village’ (aka ‘The Village.’) Its people live in perfect harmony with nature and reject modern technologies and conveniences, believing that nature is still more miraculous and amazing than anything manmade. The elderly man states that humans lose sight of what is most truly important: clean air and water. In thinking that they can make life easier and better, they wind up harming the earth and thus themselves. The old man then attends the village’s funeral march for an old woman (his first love.) Because of their lifestyles, these people typically live to be at least 100, so their funerals are usually celebrations of the deceased’s life and a way of thanking them for all their hard work. Clearly inspired by this society’s wisdom, the young man leaves a flower on the rock, and crosses back over the bridge that brought him into the village.
Each segment has its own theme or moral, but they’re all somewhat related. The first dream is like an odd fable, and its lesson seems to pertain to respecting and treating nature properly--heeding good advice and keeping away from where you don’t belong. The second, also focused on a child (the ‘Kurosawa’ figure generally seems to grow up and old throughout the film), more plainly communicates about Mother Nature. Both of these raise the question of how many second chances people will get after their offenses against her.
The two nuclear-themed dreams (or nightmares rather) are closely linked to each other and, of course, to the traumatizing memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Again, ideas are present about humans disrespecting and trying to assume control powerful forces of nature for their own ends; forgetting their true place as just another part of the earth, they believe themselves above the rest of the animals, plants, and elements. This dire mistake backfires, and they bring about their own demise though abuse. Even Japanese monster movies such as ‘Gojira’ (Godzilla) were ultimately intended as warnings about the misuse of scientific discovery and nuclear weaponry. The country's status as a world leader with regard to technology and industry might help explain the apparent fascination with science and science fiction.
Artistic and abstract, and steeped in the culture of Japan (which is a curious admixture of the very traditional and the very modernized), “Dreams” is utterly different from what American audiences are used to—not to mention that Martin Scorsese is likely the only cast member they’d be apt to recognize. However, once they overcome this initial ‘shock,’ they would find a series of engaging short plots that should speak to any human being, each one generally being at least as strong as the last. If I had to choose favorites, they would probably be the fourth, fifth, and eighth segments of the film, but it's a tough call. I’m always very receptive to anything with a pro-environmentalist, nature-exalting basis, and “Dreams” contains much remarkable scenery and dialogue along those lines--some of the most eloquent and compelling I’ve seen since ‘Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.’ And the two dreams regarding nuclear power pack quite an impact (at times almost nearing the terrible poignancy of the animated ‘When the Wind Blows.’) “Dreams” on the whole is about as stirringly beautiful a piece of art as Kurosawa could have hoped to leave for posterity.
I’ve been a fan of Japanese culture and entertainment, a good deal of which is pretty whimsical, dreamlike, and magical itself, for a long time (which has some roots in my Pokémon obsession, but started even earlier than that.) I like some anime, manga, and various genres of Japanese film, plus others inspired by or based on them--from the horror movies to samurai/martial arts subjects, or dramas. Japan's animation is a revered art form that is now extremely popular worldwide. One good psychological anime thriller I saw recently is “Perfect Blue” (1998; directed by Satoshi Kon.) I love all of Miyazaki’s and Studio Ghibli's films as well, most particularly the wildly imaginative “Princess Mononoke” (‘Mononoke-hime’) from ’97, "Ponyo" ('Gake no ue no Ponyo') from 2008, and "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" ('Kaze no Tani no Naushika') from 1984. Like much of his and other Japanese work, these also convey strong points about loving, protecting, and preserving our environment. They endorse respect and awe for natural forces by employing fantastical, mythic representations of them. And, of course, there's more anti-war sentiment to be found in the tragically realistic 1988 WWII drama, "Grave of the Fireflies" ('Hotaru no haka')--out of Studio Ghibli but not Miyazaki-directed.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Wei Minzhi then sets the other students’ sights on bringing him back. They calculate the amount of money necessary to get Minzhi to the city to search for the boy, and then attempt to raise it by working all day long to move huge stacks of bricks. This mission does not go as well as they hoped, so Minzhi ends up trying to sneak aboard a bus into the city, and finally, begins a lengthy, hot trek down the road alone. At last she is given a ride. In the city, she enlists the help of another young girl who had been with Zhang Huike at the station and then could not find him. Forcing this girl to assist her, Minzhi is able to set up an announcement to be broadcast to the city, telling her student where to come find her. When this fails, Minzhi is forced to pay the girl, then is left alone to try other methods. She spends hours writing up fliers, but after being told that they are hopeless, she takes a man’s advice and seeks out the manager of the local TV station.
Repeatedly turned away and told that she will never be allowed into the station, Minzhi persists and relentlessly waits outside the gates, asking every man she sees whether he is the station manager. Meanwhile, Zhang Huike has been begging for food, finally taken in by a restaurant owner in exchange for ceasing to annoy her customers. The station manager hears about the determined young girl who’s been waiting to see him, and kindly invites her in and offers to help her by having her on a show as their guest. Here she is allowed to tell the audience about the village school and plead for Zhang Huike to return. Luckily, he watches her tearful message at the café, and does come back. The happy ending sees the TV crew driving the two children back to the school, interviewing them. The entire village now celebrates the fact that many people who witnessed Wei Minzhi’s touching story have decided to help them, and all of the students and Teacher Wei write joyful words on the blackboard using their newly donated colorful chalk.
Also evident is the director’s undisguised criticism of the Chinese “Communist” government. People must rely on the kindness and generosity of one another, because clearly, their rulers have little concern for their well-being. The blatant hypocrisy came through early on, when Minzhi sang the song she’d learned in praise of leader Mao. Later on, after the children recited the national anthem around the flagpole, Minzhi--consciously or not--displayed some wisdom and reflected the director's own apparent thoughts by changing the plan and having the class learn a different song that dealt with nature.
Sympathizing with Wei Minzhi is all too easy. Here is a 13-year-old put in charge of a whole class, who at first seems understandably out-of-place, shy, and unsure. However, in time her true personality shows itself: She can be decisive, take-charge, and even bossy when the situation calls for it. She is simply another person desperate for money—but she also is compassionate and obviously becomes attached to these students. Her naïve innocence and thus her complete, single-minded, dogged determination during the search for Zhang Huike was very moving. Undaunted by the discouraging, negative attitudes she encountered in the city from people who are much more advantaged than she is, that girl moved logically from one plan to the next, refusing to give up on the goal she couldn’t envision failing to reach.
The simple and almost documentary-like style of filming works perfectly for this movie, given the extremely realistic subject matter and simple lives being depicted (and hopefully respected by the audience.) Nothing about the look, feel, or message is flashy and superficial. All of the actors, in this spirit of neo-realism, are non-professionals. Natural scenery, bright sunlight & outdoor lighting, and a natural soundtrack of animal sounds, cars, etc. are found throughout much of the film. Very little music is used; the score is mainly reserved for particularly poignant moments, such as the students sharing their first Coca Cola, Minzhi’s long walk toward the city, or the explanation of Teacher Gao’s lessons on the significance of conserving their chalk--and hence why all of their limited resources are so precious. Ironically, as is very often the case around the world, natural beauty surrounds groups of people living in poor conditions with barely enough to survive, help their families, and possibly educate their children. “Not One Less” is an excellent, powerful film whose very positive ending should be an example for all—only if others care and are charitable can so many lives be changed for the better.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Nikita undergoes her training at a top-secret facility, both in fighting and in matters of femininity. Once she has proven herself in her first major mission—at a high-class restaurant, deliberately set up to force her to use her skills and resourcefulness to escape—Nikita must re-enter the world as an apparently average person. By that point, her humanity is all too clear, and she is already a highly sympathetic character. As she fixes up her new apartment and commences her new life as a supposed nurse, we can see her transformation into a much better-adjusted person. Nikita falls in love with Marco, a supermarket cashier with nautical dreams, who moves in with her and tolerates her secretiveness regarding her past.
Of course, every time Nikita settles too comfortably into this newfound happiness, that past returns in the form of a phone call, directing her on missions of increasing risk and difficulty. “Uncle Bob’s” gift to the couple of a Venice vacation is merely a setup for one of these, and Nikita must hide everything from Marco, aiming a gun through the bathroom window while he tries to hold a sincere conversation with her.
The climax arrives with the announcement of the embassy mission. Their password is changed to something unknown, and a “cleaner” is sent in, determined to finish the mission at any cost. Ultimately, Nikita succeeds in obtaining the necessary materials, though much suspenseful action and high-speed danger ensues first. Meanwhile, Marco has long since discovered the reason behind Nikita’s secrecy and now has to deal with losing his love. He is paid a visit by her “uncle,” who’s concerned that she must be tracked down. Marco, however, is able to hand over what he requires. He then implores him to leave Nikita alone, reasoning that she has taken more than enough lives for them by now to repay her debt. This logic seems to satisfy Bob, who should surely be well disposed to the notion of freeing her.
While certainly an exciting, entertaining and fast-paced thriller, “Nikita” is more than that. This intelligent and very well-constructed movie is something of a study of the main character’s abnormally fascinating psyche. Nikita’s initial disturbances and issues are demonstrated outwardly when she lashes out in displays of extremely antisocial behavior. As the plot progresses she is given a second chance at life, and by the end, one can conclude that despite everything she has been through, she has probably been cured of all that at last.
At its beginning, “Point of No Return” honestly seemed hardly worthwhile, like a rushed rehashing of the events in “Nikita.” Eventually it does diverge more significantly from its source and has its own merits, but on the whole, the one thing I can say that I rather preferred in the remake over Besson’s quite brilliant original is the elaboration on the ending. To see her walking away in the rain as she’s declared dead for a second time really helps you to literally feel her sense of freedom from what was essentially ownership. Though it’s bittersweet, she is once again being reborn out of a life of violence--and this time, she owns herself again. So that was a nice bit of semi-hopeful closure. On the other hand, Besson’s femme fatale seemed a much more compassionate type of character than the one portrayed by Bridget Fonda.
I personally liked “La Femme Nikita” very much. It brings to mind other, later movies featuring the “beautiful but deadly female warrior” archetype, such as “Kill Bill,” in which the Bride is thwarted in her attempt to escape the role of assassin and lead a “normal,” peaceful life of personal fulfillment. While it appears impossible for them to inhabit both roles of their double lives, she—like Nikita—does emerge as a victorious survivor. As a character, Nikita was played in an often delightfully eccentric manner, almost like a dangerous, mercurial and uninhibited child. At times she recalled, for me, Allison the ‘basket case’ from “The Breakfast Club.”
Everything from the excellent score to the cinematographic “look”of this movie (courtesy of cinematographer Thierry Arbogast) suited it perfectly. During the first half and much of the second, the predominantly low-key, bluish lighting and color palette leant the ideal threatening, ‘underground’ atmosphere. Whenever it brightened, the contrast served to juxtapose the two sides of Nikita’s life and personality—dark versus light. Sets, camera movements, etc. also heighten the suspense and drama of her world. In my view, “Nikita” is most deserving of its status among Besson’s most resounding international hits.
France is an important country to discuss in any film class because its own Lumiere brothers are credited with having given birth to cinema itself through showings of their documentary (‘reality’) films in the 1890s. Following them came Georges Melies, whose films such as "A Trip to the Moon" were, conversely, imaginative flights of fantasy utilizing elaborate sets. By the late 1920s, Abel Gance was being even more experimental with various innovative film techniques, resulting in products such as his epic "Napoleon," about the famous Emperor.
Here is a list of some other French films I would recommend, ranging from the 1930s to the past decade:
- Delicatessen (1991)-Director: Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet
- Jules et Jim (1962)-Director: Francois Truffaut
- The Rules of the Game [La Regle du jeu] (1939)-Director: Jean Renoir
- A Very Long Engagement [Un long dimanche de fiançailles] (2004)-Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
- Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg] (1964)-Director: Jacques Demy
- Le salaire de la peur [The Wages of Fear] (1953)-Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
- Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain [The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain] (2001)-Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
- 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her [2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle] (1967)-Director: Jean-Luc Godard
- L'Enfant Sauvage [The Wild Child] (1970)-Director: Francois Truffaut
- La Belle et la Bete [Beauty & the Beast] (1946)-Director: Jean Cocteau
- Indochine (1992)-Director: Régis Wargnier
- Baxter (1989)-Director: Jérôme Boivin
Years later, Ignacio returns to Manolo’s life, disguised as his own sister, blackmailing the priest with his threats of publishing the tale of what happened during his childhood. Manolo pretends not to feel threatened but is not fooled by the disguise. Still later, we see Ignacio, aka Angel, re-involving himself in Enrique’s life. However, things take an enormous twist when the suspicious Enrique visits Ignacio’s mother and discovers that Ignacio has, in fact, been dead for years. Father Manolo, now called Mr. Berenguer, observes the shooting of the sad and dramatic climax of “Ignacio”’s and Enrique’s ultimately successful film, in which Zahara is killed while issuing a threat in exactly the same manner Ignacio had. We begin to gather why “Angel” had been so intent on playing that role; it is that of his dead brother, and Zahara happened to be Ignacio’s identity the last time he saw Enrique, passed out on a motel bed.
He then reveals to Enrique the entire story, explaining who this current “Ignacio/Angel” really is and why he was unrecognizable. As it now turns out, Ignacio’s brother Juan is the one who’s been assuming his identity all along and finally publicizing their story. Ignacio had become a transsexual and heroin addict as an adult, and waited endlessly for large sums of money from Manolo. Meanwhile, Juan and Ignacio’s former instructor had become infatuated with each other. The Father spent a lot of time with the brothers, but when he was alone in Ignacio’s apartment with Juan, they engaged in their intimate relationship. Finally, the two decided that they could never get on with their life as long as Ignacio was alive, and Juan gave Berenguer a deadly dosage to deliver to his brother in place of his usual drugs. Ignacio then shot up and fell dead onto his typewriter.
One of the film’s most prominent themes is, obviously, sexuality—but mainly in a physical sense. Despite the steamy relationship between Juan and Manolo, and the definite tension between Enrique and both brothers, no real love story developed here. Ignacio may have had feelings for Enrique, and vice versa, but if so, little ever came of them. Mostly there was pure physical attraction and desire. Drug addiction factored in as well.
Another important theme to pick up on is the abuse of innocent children by authority figures, entrusted by families with the care and education of their kids. Many would assume a priest, or any holy man, to be a model of goodness and purity. Alas, this “loosely autobiographical” movie borrows that plot element from well known real-life occurrences. Even before being killed, Ignacio believed that Manolo had ruined his life and was determined to make the child molester pay. Perhaps remorse and a feeling of being haunted by his past actions drove Manolo to finally confess the truth. The “movie-scene-within-a-movie-scene” created by “The Visit” was reminiscent of the “play within a play” scene from “Hamlet.” Seeing it acted out, even though it wasn’t the precise manner of Ignacio’s death, appeared to precipitate his revelation to Enrique.
But he was not, as it seemed all along, the only villain. Juan clearly had a thin grasp on morality which allowed him to kill his own brother, justifying it flimsily. In the end he also kills the former priest, seemingly his final attempt to redeem himself.
“Bad Education” would likely be of particular interest to Spanish cinema fans and/or the GLBT community, but I think that it can also make an interesting and thought-provoking viewing experience for most other people. With its deceptively simple beginning and increasingly unconventional, non-linear narrative structure, the film effectively blurs the lines among characters and time periods, and between reality and the movies. Scenes we had perceived as objective reality may have been part of a character’s own film, and therefore we’re never quite certain through whose perspective we are getting this story, how many versions there are, or precisely what the whole truth is. Viewers probably have to retrace their steps backward through what they’ve seen, and perhaps watch more than once, in order to finally piece it all together and gather their interpretation of this fine, intriguing film.