Mystery in Triplicate
Almodóvar's 'Bad Education' Confronts the Ravishingly Beautiful Lie
dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Not far into Bad Education, the prismatic film noir written and directed by Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, the screen is filled with the visage of "Zahara," a stunningly beautiful drag performer played by Gael Garc'a Bernal. Following his scrappy roles in Y Tu Mamá También and The Motorcycles Diaries, Bernal's transgender grace is dazzling, and Almodóvar unveils his visual treasure with relish. Pulling back from an extended close-up on Zahara's immaculately appointed eyes and lips, the camera scans down her dress--a sheer, formfitting, strategically bejeweled trompe l'oeil number designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier--that brilliantly captures a key element of Bad Education: the ravishingly beautiful lie.
Building upon the structural complexity of 2001's poetic thriller Talk to Her, Bad Education finds Almodóvar expanding his experiments with multi-layered melodrama, this time with a mystery in triplicate, spanning three time periods from three perspectives. At the center of the story are three characters: former childhood schoolmates/lovers Ignacio and Enrique, and former schoolmaster/betrayer Father Manolo, each of whose path leads unerringly back to the others. As with Talk to Her's dueling women in comas, Bad Education announces itself with a rich melodramatic subject--Catholic clergy sex abuse--only to reject all predictable conflict for an emotional and thematic territory all its own. It's a brilliant maneuver, sending audiences traipsing down an initially recognizable path that soon splinters in directions they never could've dreamed.
Suffice it to say that Bad Education explores--graphically enough to earn an NC-17 rating--the eternal ties between creativity and deception, and victimizer and victim. And anyone who loves either Almodóvar or film noir will need to see it at least twice. As for that NC-17 rating: The millions of cinema fans who admire the beguiling conglomeration of flesh that is Gael Garc'a Bernal are in for a treat. Or three.