(Pedro Almodovar, Spain, 2004)
One of Pedro's decidedly darker and more serious efforts, Bad Education left me cold the first time I viewed it. I was callow then, and much less receptive to the extra-saturated artifice that is Almodovar's style. A second viewing, and a greater appreciation of the director, have occasioned a more favorable, or at least more nuanced, view. While he refuses to relinquish his penchant for bad-boy antics, there is an undeniable restraint apparent in his later works, and if they seem more inhibited, and a bit more fussily composed, they are also more complex and heartfelt. Watching Bad Education is to experience a bit more of how Almodovar feels about his subjects. The thick braiding of the film's various narrative strands, while occasionally overwrought, is their very subject: the webs of deception (including self-deception) that we weave in order to protect ourselves from pain. It's tempting to look at a film like Bad Education as nothing more than a glossy charm-box, exquisitely crafted but with little to say. But that would be to miss the central fact of the story: the devastating aftershocks of trauma are what drive the plot and the characters. Everybody in the movie is on the run from the past, desperately compiling their respective identities. If the Almodovar surrogate is predictably sauve and passionate, he's also depicted as damaged goods, vain and covetous and plenty naive. For all of the Hitchcock references and obvious delight in the heady atmosphere of noir, Almodovar doesn't hesitate to depict, with earnestness, the ravages of abuse and their persistence through time. And this film is undeniably modern, concentrating with a sharp eye on the deleterious effects of dislocation and dehumanization, with the artist as a kind of desperate martyr.