Bad Education (2004) / Drama-Thriller
aka La Mala Educacion

MPAA Rated: NC-17 for strong sexual content, nudity, language, and drug use (also available on video in a mildly censored R-rated version)
Running Time: 106 min.

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Lluis Homar, Javier Camara, Petra Martinez, Nacho Perez, Raul Garcia Fornero, Francisco Boira, Pedro Almodovar (cameo)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar
Revieww published April 21, 2005

As I watched auteur Pedro Amodovar's Bad Education, I was reminded of another film I had just seen a week before, Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda, which is based on the theme that one's life can be comic or tragic, depending on the way it is presented by the storyteller.  Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother, Talk to Her) is a master at making funny films surrounding things that most people would consider tragic, and Bad Education is a prime example of his exemplary skills.  Very few directors could take something as controversial as priests who habitually take the livelihoods away from young, impressionable boys for their own sexual perversions, and make it as inoffensive as it ends up being, never really hitting us square with the sadness of the situations.

Bad Education starts off in 1980, where two long-lost friends, Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal, The Motorcycle Diaries) and Enrique (Fele Martinez, Abre los Ojos), reunite.  Enrique is an up-and-coming film director and Ignacio is an actor who wants Enrique to make a film out of his screenplay, mostly based on true events from their childhood, and to cast him in a starring role.  The script details how the boys dealt with sexual misadventures in Catholic school, exploring their homosexual puppy love, when all the while Ignacio's history teacher, Father Manolo (Daniel Gimenez Cacho, the narrator of Y Tu Mama Tambien), has his eye on corrupting him himself.  The movie flashes forward to the adult years, where Ignacio spends his days working as a transvestite singer, blackmailing Manolo, who has given up the collar, for his past indiscretions.  Enrique is enthusiastic about the script, but once he starts to make the film, he discovers that the reality of it seems to be a fantasy, while the fantasy elements are all too close to reality.

Although this subject matter never could have been made decades ago, Bad Education is, at its heart, a throwback crime thriller, very similar in themes to the classic film noir days.  Toss in the duality elements found in Hitchcock's finest films, along with his sense of scoring, add a dash of Patricia Highsmith, and plant all of these elements into a story about pedophile priests and boy-on-boy love, and you'll have another winner for the ever-audacious Pedro Almodovar. 

Some of you may be thinking that I think this is a good film because it pushes boundaries, but I assure you, this is actually quite the contrary, as I find lust among children and molestation to be among my least favorite things to see in entertainment.  However, for some reason, none of it really seemed to bother me, as Almodovar never really sensationalizes anything for the sake of being controversial, always keeping the tone true and the eccentric characters believable.  Basically, Almodovar leads you on a path that few dare travel, but he knows his subject matter well, and also how to tell a good yarn.  Where others would have either tried to sicken us or madden us with trying to be controversial, Almodovar wants us on his side, never allowing us to feel pity or remorse, revulsion or fear.  We are in good hands.

Also helping are the technical aspects of the film, with gorgeous cinematography from one of Amodovar's old collaborators, Jose Luis Alcaine (Blast from the Past, Belle Epoque), and a fantastic score from Alberto Iglesias (The Dancer Upstairs, Sex and Lucia), who has done the music for the last three Almodovar movies, which are arguably his finest.  Gael Garcia Bernal dives headfirst into another difficult role and comes out a winner, and Fele Martinez continues to show why he is a favorite among the leading Spanish directors. 

Needless to say given the subject matter of the film, Bad Education is not to everyone's taste.  Some fairly graphic homosexual acts won't go over well with more conservative viewers, and devout Catholics may be upset at yet another depiction of the church as full of pedophiles and sexual deviants in the clergy, although I'm going to guess that no one from either group is likely to pick up this movie to view, even accidentally.  For those with open minds about the material, Almodovar keeps us riveted to the proceedings with gusto, and while it may not be his best work, it is still quite evident that a true master of his own genre is at play, causing us to think about what roles and identity actually are, and then he pulls the rug out and we rethink them again.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo