I should learn a few publicity tips from Pedro Almodóvar. When a movie of mine comes out, I tend to downplay it, saying "I just hope you like it" and such. Comparatively, Almodóvar raves about Bad Education as "my darkest film since [1986's] Matador." I beg to differ. The director's previous feature Talk to Her is much darker, and on many more levels, than Bad Education. I mean, that film involves a male nurse impregnating a comatose patient! But I suppose Bad Education does have a dark sheen to it.
The story opens in 1980, when Enrique, a young film director whose career seems to mirror Almodóvar's at the time, is visited by someone who purports to be his childhood friend Ignacio. Now a struggling actor who wants to be called "Angel", he has a script for Enrique: a semi-autobiographical revenge drama based on their Catholic school experiences. If this scene is reminiscent of a 1940s detective story, it's supposed to be, with the director taking on the role of detective, the screenplay becoming the "case", and an ambitious, unbalanced young actor portraying the femme fatale... in more ways than one.
What follows is a triumph in film structure, with a movie-within-a-movie taking up the first chunk of the film, as Enrique reads his friend's script and flashes back to schoolboy days when the two first fell in love - and when an errant priest set his own eyes on young Ignacio. It's to Almodóvar's cheeky credit to acknowledge that, by now, we as a society have already heard so many stories of Catholic priests molesting young boys that he can take such a hot-button topic and work it into a fairly standard film noir: the priest becomes the sap, the grown Ignacio - now a transsexual junkie (welcome to Almodóvarland) - his blackmailer, and Ignacio's younger brother Juan the bait - or is Juan the double-crosser?
Aside from the slightly challenging narrative structure and the supposedly incendiary inclusion of a pedophile priest, there's not much worth discussing about Bad Education. It's a serviceable semi-thriller - a gay film noir, if you will. Its main selling point is its young star, Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, the art house heartthrob of the year. Almodóvar is canny enough to know that, if there's one thing that will get more butts in seats than his own name, it's Bernal - who in fact puts in a brave, no-nonsense performance in multiple roles.