Bad Education
(La Mala Educación) (2004)
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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As a boy, Ignacio attended a Catholic boys' school, where he was sexually abused by one of the priests, Father Manolo, but where he also formed a deep emotional bond with a fellow student, Enrique. Years later, Ignacio, now a transsexual, meets and seduces his old friend and then, the following day, goes to his former school to confront Father Manolo and demand money from him.

Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education is an intricately structured, fascinating, and genuinely affecting film.


The movie's narrative is so rich, so clever, and so ornate that, by itself, it would be able to keep the viewer's interest, even were every other element of the film a failure. The director presents deceits hidden behind deceits and exposes layers of unseen truths, which, when revealed, force the viewer to reevaluate his understanding of those layers he has already been shown. Not only does Almodóvar mislead the viewer by presenting him with his characters' lies and then revealing the truths behind those lies, but he even tricks the viewer with misrepresentations of his own. Fortunately, each of the film's revelations so tantalizes the moviegoer, so whets his appetite for the next, that he is bewitched by the complexities of the director's skillfully crafted story and made to immerse himself in the lives of its characters. Having so entered into their world of sexual abuse, seduction, betrayal, heroine addiction, theft, scandal, and murder, the viewer is sure to experience the emotions attendant upon all these various happenings with a real intensity.

While the elaborate tale Almodóvar tells is frequently lurid, the director always seems to know when to restrain himself. Consequently, rather than becoming false and melodramatic, the sensationalistic events are always affecting. Father Manolo's abuse of Ignacio, for example, could have been burdened by unnecessary didactic intrusions or heavy handed condemnations, but the director has, instead, presented the priest's abuse of the boy only obliquely and in such a way that the tragedy is kept personal and, as a result, far more potent than it would have been otherwise.


Having enthralled the viewer with his narrative and engaged him with his characters, Almodóvar is able to arouse in him profound feelings of tragedy and alienation. There is much that is light-hearted in the film, and its conclusion is not utterly dolorous, but Bad Education is, as a whole, infused with a genuine melancholy, which is greatly enhanced by the director's evocation of a sense of his characters' alienation from those around them. Such feelings of estrangement from one's fellow human beings, of indignation and anger at their actions, and even of rejection by those same persons, are particularly and surprisingly intense. The director has, in fact, made a powerful and emotionally involving film that will, most likely, touch the moviegoer deeply.

What is more, the viewer's ability to experience such feelings is considerably assisted by the performances of the various members of the cast. There is not an actor in the movie who does not acquit himself well. I cannot even single out one or two persons for praise. All greatly contribute to the film's enjoyableness.


Almodóvar has created in Bad Education a wonderfully involving and deliciously clever film. It is certainly among the director's best.

Review by Keith Allen

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