Quasi thrilling: <I>Bad Education </I>nods to Hitchcock


Pedro Almodóvar keeps getting better and better.

Bad Education (La Mala Educación) opens with Herrmannesque music in the manner of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, but most of the thrills that follow come from Almodóvar's bravura style. His plot unfolds like the layers of an onion, with stories within stories within stories, each containing some truth and some deception.

If that sounds complicated, don't worry. It's clearer and easier to follow than any number of simpler but poorly scripted films from the Hollywood machine.

In 1980, blocked filmmaker Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez) is visited by a man (Gael García Bernal) who says he's Ignacio, who had been Enrique's first love in school 16 years before. Now an actor who calls himself Ángel Andrade, Ignacio leaves Enrique "The Visit," a short story he's written about their school days.

Enrique reassures his jealous partner/assistant, Martin (Juan Fernández), "There's nothing less erotic than an actor looking for work." But when he reads "The Visit" he's hooked.

In the story, Zahara (Bernal), Ignacio's drag persona, confronts Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who loved the student Ignacio (Ignacio Pérez) and expelled Enrique (Raúl García Forneiro) out of jealousy after catching them together in the bathroom one night when they were 10 years old. Claiming to be Ignacio's sister, Zahara presents a story her brother has written and threatens to have it published unless the priest pays her off.

That's only the beginning of a plot that also features Ignacio's brother Juan (Bernal); Fr. Manolo's post-clerical incarnation, Mr. Berenguer (Lluís Homar); and Spanish actress/gay icon Sara Montiel.

Making a movie of "The Visit" requires negotiations between Enrique and the author, who wants to play the lead. Eventually a casting couch is also involved.

Bad Education isn't much easier on the movie industry than it is on Catholic schools, where abusive Fr. Manolo is aided and abetted by Fr. José (Francisco Maestre), a sadistic disciplinarian. Female impersonators don't come off too well either, as Zahara is assisted in thievery and blackmail by her cohort Paquito (Javier Cámara of Talk to Her).

Bernal emerges as a major acting talent in a complex performance that requires him to portray several variations of different characters. His Zahara is a far more convincing drag queen than Billy Crudup's in Stage Beauty.

Although it's not the thriller the opening music suggests, Bad Education does involve at least one unnatural death and several "unnatural acts." It's a movie Hitchcock might have made if he'd had a queer eye.