Bad Education, the latest film by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, offers a sinister mix of sexual exploitation, blackmail, and betrayal, all wrapped together in a confusing yet ultimately well-crafted plot.
Almodóvar plays with elements of melodrama to explore the mess left behind in Spain after Franco’s dictatorship ended. Bad Education is much more than just a political statement however, and knowledge of recent Spanish history is not necessary in order to enjoy the film.
The film begins when Ignacio (Gael García Bernal) brings a script he has just written to his old boarding school friend Enrique (Fele Martínez). Enrique is now a film producer and Ignacio wants to see if he is interested in producing the script. The script, called “The Visit,” is based on the past lives of Enrique and Ignacio. What follows is a series of flashbacks that explore the lives of Enrique and Ignacio and their relation to the script.
As the plot progresses, the line between the Ignacio’s script and the “reality” of the film is blurred, until the two almost become the same. So while this film contains a political message, it is also, in a way, about the process of turning real events into fiction.
The script Ignacio hands Enrique revolves around a priest named Father Manolo, who used to sexually abuse his young students. During the dictatorship of Franco, he could get away with his abuses, but after Franco’s death, Ignacio, Father Manolo’s favorite sex partner, comes back to blackmail the abusive priest.
The rest of the film explores themes of sexual exploitation and betrayal through the almost exaggerated characters of Ignacio, Enrique, and Father Manolo. These characters are all driven by overly passionate urges to get what they want in any way possible. In fact, it is almost as if the characters are enjoying the dark drama they are creating for themselves.
At the very end of the film, the word pasión (passion) appears as the only thing on the screen, suggesting that all of the characters’ dark actions (and even the plot of the movie itself) can be reduced to a love for passion above all else.
Bad Education is definitely worth seeing, but the plot is so complex that it needs to be seen more than once to achieve its full effect. Many of the subtleties of the characters’ actions are only apparent on second viewing, so if you are planning on seeing this film, plan to see it twice.
Daniel J. Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.