"Bad Education" (2004) is a Spanish-language drama that was written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar ("All About My Mother," "Talk to Her") and stars Gael García Bernal ("Amores perros," "Y tu mamá también," "The Motorcycle Diaries"). I would classify "Bad Education" as film noir, and as I watched it, I couldn't help thinking of "Vertigo" (1958) and "Laura" (1944).
The characters in "Bad Education" are driven by lust and ambition, and the plot, which involves blackmail and murder, has some clever twists. Almodóvar uses lush colors, and the soundtrack contains atmospheric music. I found the filmmaking here extremely vibrant.
Classic noirs often featured a femme fatale, but Almodóvar's film depends heavily on gay characters and has no major roles for women. Nevertheless, it seems to me that García Bernal's character fulfills essentially the same function as a femme fatale.
Almodóvar's story centers around an ambitious young man (García Bernal) who will do anything to further his acting career. When "Bad Education" opens, the actor has appeared in a couple of minor stage productions. But his dream is to be a movie star, and he approaches a filmmaker (Fele Martínez).
The actor gets in to see the filmmaker by claiming they had been close years earlier when they went to a Catholic boarding school together as boys. The filmmaker seems to suspect from the beginning that he's dealing with an impostor, but he goes ahead and forms a professional and sexual relationship with the actor anyway. My reading of the filmmaker's actions is that he is motivated by curiosity and lust.
The actor brings the filmmaker a lurid short story titled "The Visit," and "Bad Education" spends a lot of time showing us parts of a big-screen adaptation of that story. "The Visit" is about a boy who is sexually molested by a priest. Then that boy grows up to become the drag queen Zahara (García Bernal again), who sets out to blackmail the priest.
I would say the narrative engine that drives "Bad Education" is the mystery surrounding the identity of the actor and his relationship to the characters in "The Visit." But Almodóvar eventually reveals all.
I think Gael García Bernal gives yet another brilliant performance in "Bad Education." One of his best scenes is at the swimming pool where his character uses his sexuality as part of his negotiations with the gay filmmaker to play the starring role in the movie version of "The Visit." Also, García Bernal is impressive when he portrays the fictional Zahara. I was amused to hear Almodóvar say on the DVD commentary track that García Bernal as the drag queen reminded many viewers of Julia Roberts.
The DVD provides a feature-length audio commentary track with writer-director Pedro Almodóvar, which I found very worthwhile. I should warn you, though, that it's in Spanish with English subtitles. Almodóvar obviously considers the filmmaker character in "Bad Education" to be his alter ego, and he says that character's office is a replica of one he had for years. Almodóvar also explains some of his film's references that are not generally familiar to English-speaking audiences. For example, he says Zahara was patterned after famed Spanish actress and singer Sara Montiel. Incidentally, that's Montiel's voice we hear when García Bernal lip-synchs the song "Quizás, quizás, quizás," better known to English-speakers as "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps."
The DVD contains other bonus materials as well. There are two good deleted scenes, both from "The Visit," that clarify that fictional story, but don't contribute to the through storyline of "Bad Education." There's also 19 minutes of footage showing Almodóvar, García Bernal, and Penelope Cruz in Hollywood at the AFI Fest. And finally, there's the shortest making-of featuretteless than two minutesI've ever seen.
I should mention that there are two slightly different DVD versions of "Bad Education," one rated NC-17, the other rated R. There's no frontal nudity in either version, but the one rated NC-17 contains what the MPAA considers "a scene of explicit sexual content." So far as I can tell, the only difference between the two DVD versions is that in the R-rated one, part of the picture is cubed out in that one scene. But context and dialogue make it clear what's happening anyway, and in terms of story I don't think it makes much difference which version you watch. However, it is annoying to see the picture electronically altered, even if it is only briefly.
On the next page, I've listed all the special features of the "Bad Education" DVD.