Pedro Almodovar is one of Spain’s most celebrated directors, and a darling of American film critics. While his best-known films (Tie Me Up!Tie Me Down!/Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) have primarily focused on relationships, sex, and man’s quest to truly understand women (or other men, depending on the film), Almodovar has proven to be something of a thematic chameleon, able to weave in and out of genres with ease. His latest film, the dreamy, provocative thriller Bad Education, is further evidence that ability, and one of his best films yet.
Enrique (Martinez) is a fledgling filmmaker who is sought out by the enigmatic Ignacio (Bernal), a man whom Enrique fell in love with in his younger days, and had never really quite forgotten. Ignacio wants the director to make a film based on a story he has written that focuses on the abuses he suffered at the hands of depraved priest Father Monolo, most of which he endured to protect Enrique. While this isn’t the sort of film Enrique wants to make, he feels obligated to hear Ignacio’s tale. The story he presents to Enrique is one of deception and retribution, involving a transvestite named Zahara who has written a manuscript called “The Visit” which he/she uses to blackmail the vicious Monolo. However, when the events of the story, the book within the story, and real-life interweave, Enrique finds himself trapped in a world where the line between fact and fiction is more than just blurred- it’s been erased altogether.
Bad Education is equal parts sexually charged romance, dark drama, black comedy, Hitchcockian thriller, and steamy noir. It’s also a film in which the narrative element is so hopelessly out of whack that the viewer must simply turn themselves over to Almodovar, allowing him to guide us through his world as he sees fit. It’s a liberating feeling, though, as it makes us feel as we are more than just casual observers of the three intertwining tales, and essentially makes the audience a character in their own right. This is also a film in which any prejudices about homosexuality must be put aside, as Almodovar presents the love story between the men with an abundance of slightly more than suggestive love scenes. While these moments aren’t graphic, they’re suggestive enough to merit an NC-17 rating, and may prove a bit much for less-enlightened viewers.
Kudos to Columbia Tristar for releasing this film in all its uncut glory, as well as stocking the disc up with fantastic extras, including a rousing commentary by Almodovar, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and more.
Sitting through Bad Education, one can’t help but notice just how much love went into making this film. It’s like watching a century of filmmaking encapsulated into a single movie, and is a deliriously entertaining achievement.