Bad Education
dir. Almodovar
Opens Fri Jan 14
Cinema 21

If Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo collided head-on with a drag queen variety show, the brilliant wreckage would be Pedro Almodovar's latest, Bad Education. The eccentric Spanish filmmaker weaves together themes of false identity, chronological shifts, and his erotic style, bathing the whole film in a palette of vibrant reds, greens, and oranges. The end result is a film that sacrifices some of the comedy and melodrama that anchored Almodovar's All About My Mother and Talk to Her, relying instead upon a complex plot that slowly distills fact from fantasy.

Bad Education is rooted in a brief love affair between two Catholic schoolboys, Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Enrique (Fele Martinez), and the sexually abusive priest whose fascination with Ignacio tore them apart. Sixteen years later, the two boys reunite when a man claiming to be Ignacio comes to the office of Enrique, who's now a successful film director. The men form a bond around a story Ignacio has written about their experiences at school, and the two transform the story into a film. As the various strands of the film (and the film within the film) begin to come together, a sordid truth is revealed--one full of betrayal, murder, and lip-syncing transsexuals.

The intrigue of Bad Education lies in peeling back layer after layer of its elaborate construction; the film's a tangled, gender-bending film noir that could have easily disintegrated into a mess. Fortunately, it doesn't, but unfortunately, so much energy is spent tracking the various plot twists and flashbacks that character development suffers. In the past, Almodovar exhibited an uncanny ability to make viewers care about flawed characters, but in Bad Education, you don't care about the characters, you care about the plot.

Despite its flaws, fans of Almodovar won't be disappointed--he's one of the world's great directors, and any complaints about his latest stem from an expectation of perfection. While Bad Education isn't perfect, there's no denying that it's still one of the best films you'll see this year.