Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lluís Homar, Javier Cámara, Francisco Boira, Ignacio Pérez. (2004, NC-17, 109 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 4, 2005
With Bad Education, the great Almodóvar delivers the finest movie of his career. In this film the Spanish director maintains his now-familiar visual style with its dazzling compositions and candy-colored palette, as well as his ripe characters bursting with their melodramatic lives and messy emotions. Yet in addition to these distinctive traits Almodóvar here contributes his most elaborate and fully developed script, making Bad Education his most satisfying and well-rounded work thus far. Bad Education is a modern film noir (even though the film's settings bounce between the early 1960s and the year 1980). The story is full of noir's standard deceits and double-crosses, its passions, desires, and seductions, and its crimes of the flesh and the lucre. From the film's opening credits with their Saul Bass-style look and the amazing Bernard Herrmann-like score by Alberto Iglesias, there is no doubt regarding the effect Almodóvar is going for. However, this being an Almodóvar film noir, it would be foolish to "cherchez la femme": Here "la femme" is a male-to-female transsexual. The storyline is appropriately convoluted and dark, and involves blackmail, false identities, lust, drug addiction, and cover-ups, although Bad Education is not without ample comic moments and melodramatic interludes. The story's forbidden sex, however, is not the common film noir kind between a man and woman but instead the illegal and immoral kind between a Catholic priest and his prepubescent male student. Despite the explosion in films and news coverage about this subject in recent years, leave it to Almodóvar to be the only filmmaker to receive an NC-17 rating (no doubt for his film's more-than-acceptable number of head bobs during oral sex scenes rather than for its minimal frontal nudity and the sight of a young molestee filmed in long shot without his pants). Playing three different roles in the movie – one of them the tranny Zahara – Bernal is spectacular. Whether playing a man or a woman, Bernal conveys a strong physicality that is nearly impossible to resist. (Due to the complications of playing three roles, Bernal?s seductiveness reaches a pinnacle in Bad Education, but look to some of his other films – Amores Perros, Y Tu Mamá También, The Crime of Father Amaro – for further evidence. This actor is seriously dangerous.) Almodóvar has also confessed to there being some autobiographical elements in Bad Education, the most obvious being the role of the successful gay filmmaker Enrique Goded (Martínez), who at the beginning of the film is scouring the tabloids for story ideas. When an old classmate appears on his doorstep with an unpublished novel about their old school and its abuses, and the adult consequences of that early imprinting, the only way Enrique can get to the bottom of things (so to speak) is to make it into a movie. This is the director's process of sorting out the story. Sam Spade would have burned through shoe leather, the director through celluloid. Bad Education also carries on some of the anticlericalism of Buñuel and the humanism of Renoir, while adding in some of the American noir trappings of the likes of Wilder and Hitchcock. The comedy is Almodóvar's own, but the director's noir is a shade more sanguine than the Americans'.