Bad Education is a dream come true for many reasons, but first and foremost, the pairing of director Pedro Almodóvar with actor Gael García Bernal is, shall we say, deeply exciting. The talented Mexican thespian's past portrayals of men moved by passion and desperation have long reminded us of the Spanish director's characters, and we figured the collaboration would yield a brilliant piece of dramatic art. It's not just that we wanted to see the luscious Bernal in slutty drag, or that we guessed Almodóvar would strip him naked, smear his makeup, and compromise his morals. Get your mind out of the gutter. We were, however, correct on all counts.
Other predictions of ours came true as well: A twisted story line, beautifully sweaty color schemes, and stratospheric drama are Almodóvar hallmarks, and fans will not be disappointed. (Out of respect for both viewers and creators, we won't defile the plot by trying to describe it here. Suffice to say it's about storytelling, betrayal, and Catholic schoolboys in love.) But the movie is also an homage to film noir, with Hitchcockian moments galore and a protagonist, played by the pretty Fele Martínez, as confused, suspicious, and seduced as any gumshoe. The filmmaker tones down his usual biting humor here to serve this purpose, but doesn't eliminate it. “Nothing is less erotic than an actor looking for work,” jabs Martínez's character, Enrique, a film director.
One aspect of Bad Education we didn't see coming — but should have — is that even as we booed and hissed the bad guy, American-style (“Fry 'im!” our inner Texas governor shrieked), we realized Almodóvar somehow fails to hate any of his characters. From pathetic hangers-on to rapists not worth the five inches of water it would take to drown them, everyone's human, and no one except the aging mommy is innocent. Audience members arriving at the cinema with prurient expectations won't go away empty-handed, but they may find their urge to moralize compromised.