Skillfully fusing the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, homoeroticism and Catholic scandal, writer/director Pedro Almodovar crafts a searing, masterful tribute to the power of memories and movies in his latest opus, Bad Education.
Almodovar hasn't shied away from vibrant, kinetic cinema during his career and this newest work is no exception, framing his story of passion, deceit and betrayal as a film within a film; echoes of Hitchcock's Vertigo resonate throughout, as well as traces of classic American film noir.
On one hand, the famed Spanish auteur offers up a scathing dissection of the Catholic Church and the young boys irrevocably altered by the institution as well as the long-term ramifications of the clergy's sexual abuse. On the other, Bad Education is a sly satire about movies and those who make them - identity is fluid throughout and by the film's climax, a tangle of motives, meaning and men are left by the filmmaker for the audience to sort out.
The story which drives the film is the fractured relationship shared by two former schoolmates, one of whom, Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez) is now a successful filmmaker - indeed, the very name of the character riffs upon Godard. An ambitious young actor and screenwriter who calls himself Angel (Bernal) and claims to be a long-lost friend of Enrique's, turns up in Enrique's office bearing "The Visit," a screenplay that tells a story from their youth.
As Enrique reads further, it becomes clear that perhaps Angel is not necessarily who he says he is and that "The Visit" may hit closer to home than he realizes. To give any more away would ruin the delights of discovering the film for yourself.
Almodovar spent a decade writing the screenplay for Bad Education, based on his own experiences at a Catholic boarding school; while he himself asserts that he was not molested, he does claim that some of his friends were. It's this sense of detached but still righteous anger that fuels some of the more potent dramatic scenes in his film.
Bernal - who spends a good chunk of the movie in drag - fairly ignites the screen in his complex and challenging role. While Bad Education is a showcase for the undeniable talents of Bernal, Martinez as well as Daniel Gimenez Cacho as Father Manolo and Lluis Homar as the sinister Manuel Berenguer provide able support.
Those anticipating a conventional suspense thriller would do well to check those expectations at the door; while the Saul Bass-esque titles and Bernard Herrmann-lite score do suggest a throwback to the more innocent evil of Fifties-era Hitchcock, Bad Education was still slapped with an NC-17 rating due to its semi-explicit depictions of gay sex. It's the bracing juxtaposition of 2005 morality and 1965 story structure that makes this ingenious work so compelling.
One final note: Bad Education is also available in a R-rated edition; after some cursory research, I was unable to determine what scenes have been cut - but if I were to hazard a guess, I'd probably say the semi-explicit gay sex scenes were cut outright or trimmed slightly.
Bad Education is given lush, garish life in a terrific 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. There's no edge enhancement or smearing to speak of, even in Enrique's Eighties,color overload-saturated offices. A very clean, crisp-looking effort.
The film is offered in its native Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 only with English subtitles. Almodovar's commentary, also in Spanish, is subtitled in English and during the brief pauses, the film's subtitles do appear. Dialogue, score and ambient sound effects all sound natural and free from distortion; a very nice compliment to the excellent transfer.
The only real splash Bad Education made was about its rating, rather than any significant coin at the box office. Nevertheless, Columbia Tri-Star has included a considerable amount of bonus material here, not the least of which is an engaging, informative commentary track from Almodovar. Also on board are four minutes, forty-five seconds of deleted scenes in anamorphic widescreen and with no subtitles; footage from the red carpet at the AFI Film Festival; a photo gallery; a non-anamorphic widescreen making-of featurette offered with a snippet of the score and no dialogue; the anamorphic widescreen American theatrical trailer, the original Spanish theatrical trailer (presently oddly enough in non-anamorphic widescreen) and anamorphic widescreen trailers for Being Julia, Imaginary Heroes, House of Flying Daggers, All About My Mother, Flower of My Secret, Talk To Her, The Crime of Padre Amaro and William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
If you're seeking a mystery of a different and exotic flavor, Almodovar's Bad Education sits at the head of the class. An excellent transfer and worthwhile supplements make this DVD an easy recommendation - don't miss it.