Movie Review - Bad Education

Near the end of Pedro Almodovar’s newest film, Bad Education, two of the principal characters emerge from a movie theatre screening a series of classic film noir. One of the characters says, “I feel like we were watching ourselves.” Considering that the two men were hiding out at the theatre after performing a grisly murder, the comment becomes an obviously self-referential wink. Almodovar’s camera lingers on the vampy posters as they leave the theatre, putting the stylistic cap on yet another strange piece of meta-cinema that looks back more to the director’s own earlier work than his recent melodramas Talk to Her and All About My Mother.

Summarizing the film’s plot is a problematic endeavor, as Almodovar throws a heavy curveball at the audience halfway through the film that sends it in a completely different direction. While at first, Bad Education is a disturbing examination of Franco-era religious education—weaving between flashbacks of the child Ignacio dealing with a rapist priest and his adult, drag queen incarnation (Gael Garcia Bernal)—it abruptly becomes a noirish melodrama after a left-field revelation involving Ignacio and his suspect motivations.

At this point, Bad Education at least superficially becomes a devious, well-done thriller populated by a nasty baddie using sex-disguised-as-love as his weapon. The film’s latter half drags occasionally as Almodovar rather hastily attempts to thread the earlier narrative into the prescient flashbacks that dominate the film’s last 30 minutes.

But Almodovar’s graceful balancing between damaged identity and cinematic fantasy is the film’s greatest accomplishment. The film-within-the-film prepares us for this trapeze act as it poses as Ignacio’s back-story, but turns out to be itself a fiction film—a kind of aggrandizing simulacra of Ignacio’s identity. After we are shown that Ignacio’s flashbacks are no more than an imaginary cinematic representation, Almodovar is able to effectively coincide his look at Ignacio’s childhood into an “accurate” narrative account of the effects of his titular education.

The themes of self-actualization, fantasy and queer identities in a world constrained by morality aren’t new to Almodovar, but rarely has he so effectively correlated these themes with the tenets of his unique cinema. Bad Education utilizes the typically Almodovarian production schemes, quirky dialogue, ambiguous moral codes and post-feminist politics to create a cinematic space that is more usefully reflexive than his past work. As the film moves toward and comments upon the post-modern “reality” embodied in Ignacio’s development, Almodovar productively pushes the envelope as he weaves in and out of and ultimately combines a variety of modern narratives that have shaped Ignacio—be they cinematic, queer, performed or socio-political.


Bad Education is also marked by a smattering of terrific performances, particularly from Bernal, whose recent lead roles in The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien have quickly transformed him into an international art-film superstar. Bernal shows an impressive range in Almodovar’s film, moving from starlet to drag queen to ambivalent con artist without distracting the audience by stressing his versatility.

Like Almodovar’s last film, Talk to Her, Bad Education is morally complicated and visually explicit. It is also cinematically literate, beautiful and strikingly well-conceived. As one of the few important filmmakers today who refuses to corrupt or simplify his own work, Almodovar has dropped another much-needed gem into the limited pool of challenging new cinema.