★★ / ★★★★
“Storytelling” was divided into two parts: fiction and non-fiction. In the former, Selma Blair stars as a writer who was having trouble coming to terms with her artistic identity. In order to find it, she decided to sleep with her brutally honest professor (Robert Wisdom) after her boyfriend (Leo Fitzpatrick) had broken up with her. In the latter, an aspiring filmmaker (Paul Giamatti) decided to make a documentary about high school life and the pressures of getting into college. His specimen was an aimless teen named Scooby (Mark Webber) who wanted to be the next big talk show host. As with Todd Solondz’ other projects (“Happiness,” “Welcome to the Dollhouse”), what I enjoyed most about “Storytelling” was that it was so good in straddling the lines between scenes that were purely offensive, scenes that were very funny, and scenes that were undeniably sad. However, brilliant moments were not prevalent here because I felt like Solondz was completely detached from his characters. Instead of really focusing on their respective emotional turmoils, I found him constantly poking fun of them. He disdainfully points at his subjects and makes a lot of jokes at their expense but as the film went on, the jokes became less funny to the point where it most became redundant. I craved for the director to reveal another dimension to his characters but it rarely happened so I felt very disappointed. Although I liked the risk that the director had taken in terms of dividing the movie into two parts and making one considerably shorter than the other, I am not convinced that risk ultimately paid off. The fiction portion lacked focus (which was a shame because I really liked Blair in it) and the non-fiction segment felt too contrived. Neither came together in the end and I failed to see what Solondz wanted me to understand. I had a handful of ideas in my head but I feel like the material he had on screen was just too general. That lack of focus led to a lack of momentum. For instance, did Giamatti’s character realize that the subject he had chosen was very similar to current self? So in a way, he was basically documenting his life and at the same time making fun of it. I suppose it’s a good thing that I was able to extract many questions from the images the director put together but I did not feel like he had power of them. In the end, “Storytelling” was a nice experiment and nothing more. It tried to be different on the outside but when I really look into it, its core was not at all atypical.
Bad Education (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Pedro Almodóvar is one of my favorite directors because he is often willing to take bold risks. Instead of feeding his audiences Hollywood typicalities, he tries to reinvent the formula by challenging us to see movies in a different way. In his film “La mala educación,” two childhood friends (Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez) who fell in love with each other in Catholic school crossed paths after sixteen years of separation. Enrique was experiencing a drought of ideas for his next film so Ángel offered Enrique a story that was half non-fiction (based on their childhood) and half fiction (when they eventually reunited). The only thing Ángel wanted in return was to play the lead character because he desperately needed work. The first time I saw “Bad Education” (which was around 2005) I didn’t completely understand it because it was essentially a dynamic exercise of perspectives. Back then I didn’t have the experience to really hone in on what was really going on underneath the scenes that Almodóvar painted for his audiences. But after becoming more familiar with his work and other movies that may have influenced his techniques, I am convinced that “La mala educación” is one of his best movies to date. The funny thing (and what I love most) about Almodóvar is he pretty much uses the same basic elements in all of his pictures: bright colors that hint on what we should feel and/or what the characters really feel despite their self-delusions, bittersweet irony, awkward camera angles, mistaken identities, razor-sharp dark comedy and eccentric characters willing to go through great lengths to keep certain secrets hidden. What impresses me is he (arguably) just shuffles things around, makes tiny tweaks here and there and voilà!–a new Almodóvar film is born. But what makes this picture one of his best is every scene has a certain focus and confidence so each one contributes to the big picture. In about an hour and forty-five minutes, the director was able to elegantly construct a web of deceit with characters who had questionable morals yet we couldn’t help but care for them because we knew their backstories. Bernal was simply electric. His character is the kind of character I love to watch and dissect because every decision he made had a purpose and would ultimately most benefit himself. He appeared charismatic on the outside but he was capable of great subterfuge. That element of film noir completely enraptured me and I didn’t want the experience to end. “Bad Education” is not the kind of movie one will fully understand in just one sitting. Anyone who claims to have understood everything about it is either lying or has completely missed the point. I highly recommend “La mala educación” for its feverish passion to tell a very personal story which expertly balances ambiguity and complexity. Don’t get distracted by the drag queens and sexual positions because those elements are just half the fun.