Pedro Almodovar has made his career out of going where none before him have dared to go. His early comedy "Dark Habits" gave us a convent whose nuns supported their good works by selling heroin; the fact that they kept a tiger in the courtyard was just a little extra frisson that Almodovar threw in. In "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" the film's climax uses, what else, gazpacho to save the day. But with his recent films he's found a way into an increasingly darker look at the complexities of life. "All About My Mother" is an intertwined study of people making hard choices and suffering some profound consequences. "Talk To Her" deals with death and near-death, experienced in a variety of forms - those who take life and those who die.
His new film is "Bad Education," and it is a story within a story. Two boys, Ignacio and Enrique, find love with each other in their short time at a Catholic school. A pedophile priest (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) at the school is the trigger for enormous changes in both of them; one becomes a successful, gay film director and the other a transvestite and junkie. We meet Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who now calls himself Angel but may in fact be someone else entirely, as he visits Enrique (Fele Martinez) with a manuscript, called "The Visit," that he wants Enrique to film. "The Visit" is the story of what happened to both boys and to the priest.
Almodovar has carefully constructed "Bad Education" as a kind of Chinese box, or better still a Fabergé egg within an egg within an egg, each one different from the one before. There is revenge and blackmail and love and death; there is beauty and horror and fury; there's even a bit of the old Almodovar wit. We're told that he worked on this script for ten years; it is complex and carefully fitted together, but it is also profound, as befits one of the handful of great filmmakers working today. Nothing is wasted, nothing is redundant, every scene has a part to play in the whole. The film is intense from beginning to end, and some in the audience may wish that Almodovar had told it with a lighter hand; but it is that very rigor - the refusal to acknowledge the audience's wishes - that gives "Bad Education" its great power.
Gael Garcia Bernal plays three different roles in this film, and he gives one - perhaps I should say three - of the finest, and most subtle, performances I can recall seeing. We believe implicitly in each of them. Fele Martinez as Enrique is a perfect foil for him, and Daniel Gimenez Cacho as the priest finds a way into his character's humanity that lends power to the film. "Bad Education" has deservedly won awards at festivals across Europe this summer, and will open in the United States later this fall.