Pedro Almodovar's latest film, La Mala Educacion (Bad Education), is a richly-layered, playfully self-referential exploration of the relationship between life and fiction. We start plainly enough with an actor/writer presenting a script to a director. He claims the storyline starts in fact but moves to fiction. But where is the line between the two? And who is the actor/writer really, and why has he written this script? As the film shifts between present and past, fact and fiction, life and re-enactment, it seems the truth slowly emerges. Ultimately, the "truth" is like an onion, with layers peeled back only to find ever more layers and no true core.
But this description makes the film sound way too dry and pretentious. Not at all. It sneaks its philosophical musings across in a sexy and engaging film noir. I was drawn in to this film, and each new development was a surprise, both revealing more and adding more to the puzzle. (I'll say nothing about specifics of the plot, as I wouldn't want to give anything away.) Almodovar's direction was brilliant as ever. His camera deftly conveys volumes of emotion often with little needing to be said. This is true in the powerful scenes between a priest and a young boy, as well as a lighter scene when a director gives a sexy actor the up-and-down gaze. (And David Hockney would love the art of Almodovar's swimming pool scenes.) Gael Garcia Bernal is phenomenal in a multi-faceted, complex role, including a role in a role in a role. (And I'll admit he's quite easy on the eyes as well, and fittingly rhapsodized by Almodovar's camera. There's plenty here for those who seek a sexy visual feast, but truly none of it gratuitous -- every scene is about the story.)
With this great film coming shortly on the heels of Testosterone, I'm fast becoming a fan of this emerging niche genre of Latin gay film noir. While Testosterone was a great roller-coaster ride and a classic film noir with a gay sensibility, La Mala Educacion does all that and one better, with the added dimension of philosophical intrigue. (Of course, as the film plays with the relationship between screenplay and real life, one can't help but wonder the relationship between this screenplay and Almodovar's life. Alas, and perhaps appropriately, that will remain a mystery.)