Bad Education

The director aims at the heart of sin, Catholic guilt, and changing mores.

When the priest-leader of a prominent graduate school at my Catholic college made advances toward me, I lost all faith in my faith. Pedro Almodovar, a director with boundless daring, takes on abusive priests, junkie transvestites, and murderous liaisons in Bad Company, a title that aptly describes the dysfunctional Spaniards who occupied education and the Catholic Church in the 60's and 70's. When the hero, Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal), says, "I sold myself for the first time that night in the sacristy," the director aims at the heart of sin, Catholic guilt, and changing mores.

The title sequence is enough like Hitchcock's recognizable openings of fragmented images and shrill music to prepare us for a movie about confused identities and uncertain love (reinforced by a sequence with "Moon River" at its center).
Ignacio visits film director Goded (Fele Martnez) in 1980. The two were boyhood chums in 1964, and now Ignacio brings a script about their schooldays when Father Manolo (Daniel Gimenz Cacho) abused Ignacio, who had become a transvestite and returned to blackmail the prelate.

Almodovar mixes reality and fantasy by having a movie within the movie, where Ignacio plays himself. Regardless of the confusing circumstances, the director is centrally interested in the conjunction of art and real life, memory and reality. When the two adolescent boys whack each other off in a movie theater, the director is showing the power of art to illuminate the most secret of desires. In a more benign way, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002), with Jody Foster as a dominating nun, shows that abuse of power, in whatever form, draws the Almighty's wrath sooner or later.

As far as Almodovar's ambitious foray into film noir, Bad Education is marginally noirish because he still loves his loaded palette enough not to de-saturate it completely. Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby much more effectively drains the color to evoke the black and white, good and evil clash. Even Almodovar's gymnastic juxtaposition of real and fictional characters goes counter to the noir emphasis on villains easily defined.

Bad Education's raison d'etre might be to expose the danger and hypocrisy of Franco's dictatorial controls as much the Catholic Church's. He doesn't completely succeed, but he sure has fun trying.

Recent clerical abuse in the Diocese of Boston and around the globe makes Bad Education a cautionary tale for the naive like me who thought that priests and postulants posed no threat to angelic altar boys.