Forget Talk To Her (Hable con ella). Forget All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre). Ladies and gentlemen, Bad Education (La mala educación) is Pedro Almodóvar’s defining masterpiece. One can not summarize this film in one sentence because it deeply explores several risky themes, is multi-layered and has an unconventionally intriguing narrative.
The film can be simplified (with great injustice) into two arcs. The first one is melodrama and involves the reunion of two childhood friends, Enrique and Ignacio. Now adults, they talk about adapting into film the story (The Visit) written by Ignacio (played by Gael Garcia Bernal in the first half). Eventually, they end up reigniting their childhood fling and become lovers.
This narrative is interjected by metafictional quasi-flashbacks about their childhood in Catholic school (childhood friendship, sexual abuse by Father Manolo) and by a completely fictional account of their reunion (a sexual tryst). Almodóvar successfully presents a loop in the whole adaptive/creative process and this may be even seen as an inside joke for the film.
The second arc starts when Enrique finds out from Ignacio’s mother that Ignacio has actually been dead for four years. There is almost a complete turnaround in this film. It is less outlandish than the one in Mulholland Drive but it is equally shocking. Bernal’s character is actually Ignacio’s mysterious younger brother Juan, an actor who wants to land a role in the film.
Enrique rides on with the lie and continues with the adaptation of The Visit. He casts Juan as the title character Zahara (based on Ignacio) and proceeds with the filming. However, they shoot the final scene with a revised and more shocking screenplay by Enrique. This makes Juan cry at the end of shooting the scene. There, Father Manolo (now a married man named Mr. Berenguer) visits Enrique and reveals the whole truth behind Ignacio’s death in a sort of noir-ish Hitchcockian thriller. It is jaw-dropping but totally logical.
These two arcs come in full circle with Almodóvar’s masterful direction. His visual imagery – outlandish colors, shapes and patterns – is really utilized to its full potential. He really knows how to use space to evoke emotion and lack of it. The acting is top-notch, especially from Gael Garcia Bernal. And what good is a film without a sweeping score! Alberto Iglesias delivers a memorable and haunting score that jumps to suspense, flows to mellow and conjures up to whimsical with such exquisite transition – one that is reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s legacy.
Overall, Bad Education undeniably catapults the genius of Almodóvar. Its exploration of various themes such as perverted Catholicism, homosexuality, crimes of passion and film adaptation is such a remarkable feat not easily surpassed. Coupled with filmmaking techniques that range from melodrama to film noir, Bad Education is a magnificent ride of a film. It is a true and crowning cinematic experience.