Bad Education (2004)

Pedro Almodóvar | 1hr 46min

Like all the best neo-noirs, truth isn’t easy to come by in Bad Education. The way a writer recalls a memory may differ entirely to the artistic rendering of it, and while both might be divorced from reality, unexpected revelations also emerge from the unlikeliest fabrications. This story is further complicated when fraudulent identities come to light, warping the transgressive melodrama of child sexual abuse and corrupt religious authorities into a twisted Hitchcockian tale of murder. Pedro Almodóvar remains as boldly colourful as ever in his patterned wallpapers and vibrant set dressing throughout this film, and yet Bad Education also marks one of his most confident narratives in its leaps between flashbacks, re-enactments, and the present reality.

Pop art production design in the colours and arrangements. Every detail in Almodóvar’s mise-en-scène is placed with purpose, from the red bowl on the coffee table matching the phone, to the green curtains and stained glass window.

The reunion of young film director Enrique with old childhood friend Angel (previously known as Ignacio) right in the opening brings with it a torrent of old ghosts from their days at a Catholic boarding school in 1964. The flame that once sparked between them is one such memory, as is Father Manolo, the priest whose molestation of Ignacio is channelled into the screenplay Angel is now asking Enrique to direct, “The Visit.” As Enrique sits down to read it, Almodóvar pulls his camera back from outside the criss-crossed window bars of his apartment, the striking composition punctured by a vivid red lamp sitting on a coffee table, and we dissolve into this smaller story nested within the larger one.

An excellent composition in the framing through window bars with the pinpoint of red in the lamp, as the camera tracks backwards into the nested story.
The first hints of noir in these flashbacks where a young Ignacio is pulled into the dark orbit of Father Manolo.

Later when “The Visit” is properly produced as a movie, the production appears almost identical to what we witnessed earlier, minus a few extra dramatisations. Quite ironically though, some of these attempts to embellish the truth wind up closer to reality than expected, and Almodóvar’s great artistic ethos regarding the value of artifice emerges in some of the most acutely affecting moments of Angel and Enrique’s emotional journeys.

It is easy to consistently point to the Douglas Sirk inspiration in virtually everything Almodóvar has ever created, but from film to film there has been significant variation in his influences, and the noirish conspiracy which Bad Education eventually takes a turn towards points quite directly to Double Indemnity. This is the film that two covert lovers and murder accomplices choose to watch to pass time not long after completing their dastardly act. “It’s as if those films are about us,” they fearfully mutter, walking by its poster hanging on a bright orange wall while leaving the theatre. Outside, it is dark and rainy, and Almodóvar fully embraces the noir convention here as his characters descend into paranoia, their relationship beginning to crumble.

An inspired dissolve moving from the screenplay to the characters contained within its story.
Murder shot from this birds-eye view looking over the victim fallen upon their typewriter. These extreme high angles are common in Almodóvar’s oeuvre and here it comes with a noir-ish twist.

It isn’t simply in spite of Almodóvar’s magnificent strokes of colour that Bad Education’s murky noir narrative flourishes, but rather because of it, as it is through his extravagant interiors that these elaborate plot developments become utterly believable. Venetian blinds are very much present here in his backdrops and framing of characters, serving a similar purpose to those more classic entries into the genre in creating an uneasy tension in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, bursts of reds in towels, deck chairs, and ornaments continue to spill forth an intense passion throughout this film, like expressions of the rich, inner lives of its characters. This painstaking curation of mise-en-scène rivals the old masters of cinematic expressionism, though the uniquely Almodóvarian trademarks are all there. Through its dazzling swings of tone, plot, and colour, there is a thrill to picking apart Bad Education’s elaborate representations of truth and fiction, and in its self-referential examinations of these very concepts the Spanish auteur’s lovingly artificial cinematic style feels more at home than ever.

Reds all through Almodóvar’s mise-en-scène in Venetian blinds, towels, and deck chairs. Certainly one of his greatest visual accomplishments to date.

Bad Education is not currently available to stream in Australia.

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