Robin CliffordDirector Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez, "Talk to Her") is trying to come up with an idea for a new film when he receives a surprise visit from old school friend Ignacio (Gael García Bernal, "The Motorcycle Diaries') who has written a script called 'The Visit.' Ignacio, who now insists on being called by his stage name of Angel, was more than a friend to Enrique and his screenplay exposes how their young love was sullied by their experience with a Catholic "Bad Education."
Writer/director Pedro Almodóvar ("Talk to Her") goes all Hitchcockian with his intricately structured film noir and García Bernal burns up the screen playing three distinctly different characters. Less emotionally engaging than "Talk to Her," "Bad Education" is an intellectually playful puzzle box that should delight cineastes who like their drama dark.
A flashback (later to be revealed as a flashforward!) leads us to Zahara, Angel's transvestite persona, performing on stage, seducing a fan (Enrique, passed out drunk), then blackmailing a priest, Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho, "Nicotina"), with her knowledge of what he had done to her 'brother' Ignacio. A further flashback (a real one or a recreated one?) details the sexual obsession Manolo held for young Ignacio (Nacho Pérez) and how he separated the boy from his friend by expelling young Enrique (Raúl García Forneiro). Incensed, Father Manolo's flunky, Padre José (Francisco Maestre, "The Devil's Backbone"), strangles Zahara to silence her.
After this climatic moment - the film set breaks. An out of town publisher, Sr. Manuel Berenguer (Lluís Homar, "Valentín"), has arrived to visit the star who is recovering from her violent death scene and also give the director a startlingly different version of the events he is filming.
While "Bad Education" is certainly a condemnation of the abuses that occurred within the Catholic Church, it is first and foremost a mystery. While presenting Angel/Zahara's story, Almodóvar begins sprinkling seeds of doubt with the weird path Enrique and Ignacio's relationship takes as adults. The beautifully designed credit sequence, with its 'Vertigo' tinged score, also hints at what is about to unfold. One of Enrique's early lines, 'There's nothing as unerotic as an actor looking for work,' also suggests the auto-biographical nature of the material.
Star Bernal is much more engaging here, as a good boy/bad girl/bad boy, than in his bland "Motorcycle Diaries" performance and his Zahara is more beautiful than Julia Roberts, whom Zahara calls to mind. Javier Cámara (Benigno in "Talk to Her") injects some comedy into the proceedings as Zahara's gal pal Paca. Cacho is a malevolent, looming presence while his counterpart, Homar, is sympathetic. Young Nacho Pérez is affecting, and, if he is doing his own singing, has an angelic voice. Francisco Boira makes a surprise entrance in the film's last act, resembling "Nervous Breakdown's" Rossy de Palma.
"Bad Education" is an ingeniously layered screenplay and film that is beautifully blocked and photographed, but lacks "Talk to Her's" emotional resonance. The film is rated NC-17, I assume for several soft core gay sex scenes, but they are tamer than many seen on Showtime's "Queer as Folk." (Almodóvar leaves no doubt of sexual child abuse, but leaves it off screen.)
Robin gives "Bad Education" a B+.
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