The sadly always topical abuse scandals of the Catholic Church rear their head thirty years earlier in Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education
. One boy, Ignacio, is subjected to the sexual abuse, another, Enrique, ironically punished and expelled for his mild homosexual attraction to his abused friend. Ten years later the two boys have shot off in completely different trajectories both psychologically and geographically. The crossed-lovers finally meet again when the abused boy, grown up into a bedraggled but handsome young man and struggling actor (Gael García Bernal) approaches his brief boyhood soul-mate Enrique (Fele Martínez) who is now a movie director.
The paths that landed the two men in their respective positions are markedly different. Enrique, stunted by his unfulfilled childhood experience, is artistically inspired by the true-life bizarreness of wild tabloid tales. Ignacio's past is more mysterious and grows more convoluted as Bad Education
submerges itself in a densely layered tapestry. Though Ignacio first contacts Enrique for a job what he also reveals is a short story that is supposedly half based on his and Enrique's childhood experiences-tales of abuse and love alike-mixed with a fictional half taking place later in Ignacio's life. Both these storylines are brought to life by Almodóvar, the former being a sweet, sad, and simple tale which must be quite common for the Catholic school setting. While this section, featuring an interesting and eventually dangerously sympathetic character in the form of the principal abuser Father Manolo, is generating controversial press, it really is the later section of Ignacio's story that convolutes Almodóvar's movie. In this tale, whose fictionality is highly questionable, Gael García Bernal reveals himself in drag, performing "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas" and seducing a drunk and unknowing young man in order to rob him, but the man turns out to be Enrique. Destitute, drug using, and rather desperate, Ignacio and his fellow transvestite Paca (Javier Cámara) decide to steal from the Church and blackmail Father Manolo. This story, titled "The Visits," hits the perfect note with Enrique, who is finally able to find a story of the outrageous-but-strangely-plausible variety, but one that strikes an uncanny personal note. The two men's relations become complicated when Ignacio insists on playing the "fictional" version of himself in the film, and Enrique finds there something different about his old friend, and something questionable about his story.
Almodóvar's film is highly complicated one, not in a way that is hard to follow but in a way that makes an unraveling of its endless parade of honest emotions, shrowded identities and motives, performed fictions, false realties and twisty-turny media (film, story, memory) a convoluted and unsatisfying affair. The elements of Bad Education
are inherently fascinating, and with a lively score by Alberto Iglesias in the vein of Bernard Herrmann, the playful references to the cinema in general and film noir in specific, and the infectious glee of watching Bernal in effective drag, Almodóvar mixes a confounding amount of wild fun inside a story that masks its darkness in nearly impenetrable layers of thematic twists and turns. Those familiar with Almodóvar's auteur characteristics may find themselves more comfortable with Bad Education
's web of characters who are gay, who are playing gay, who are gay and are playing gay, and those are investigating the nature of this whole convolution in general. In is in the film's occasional and amusing references to the generic plots of noirs-shady identity, amnesia, subjective memory, dangerous and fatalistic sexuality-where Almodovar almost achieves moments that not only resonate thematically but are also delightfully and intelligently stylized. But the moments are rare in the plot's haste in piling on and complicating the senario to the point of extreme disinterest.