As intricate and carefully woven as a spider's silken web, Pedro Almodóvar's "Bad Education" is a dazzling exercise in storytelling — and a loving tribute to the power...

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As intricate and carefully woven as a spider’s silken web, Pedro Almodóvar’s “Bad Education” is a dazzling exercise in storytelling — and a loving tribute to the power of cinema. It begins simply, as two childhood friends meet again in their late 20s, and quickly spins off in different directions: backwards and forwards and sideways, truth meeting fantasy, life meeting art.

To re-tell the story would be to diminish the film’s pleasure, so suffice to say simply that the two friends share a troubled past at a boys’ Catholic school, where a sinister priest (Daniel Giménez-Cacho) played a key role in their “bad education.”

Years later, Enrique (Fele Martínez) is now a film director; Ignacio, who now calls himself Angel (Gael García Bernal) arrives at his office with a short story he wants Ignacio to make into a film. The story, called “The Visit” is a re-examination of their past, a fantasy of what happened and what might have happened.

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As Almodóvar takes their story and blows it up like a bright balloon, Bernal’s character undergoes some changes. He plays the transvestite Zahara, a pouty beauty who preens her head like a peacock; and Juan, a young man with dangerous eyes. And the story becomes something else, too: inspired by the dark streets and melodrama of film noir, the film becomes a Hitchcockian murder mystery, encouraged by the malevolent strings of Alberto Iglesias’ orchestral score.

Opening today

“Bad Education,”
with Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez, Javier Cámara, Daniel Giménez-Cacho, Lluis Homar. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Rated NC-17 for a scene of explicit sexual content. 109 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Harvard Exit.

In “Bad Education,” characters retreat to the cinema to hide, to escape, to fall in love. (In one idyllic scene, young Ignacio, dreaming perhaps of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” sings “Moon River” on a sun-dappled afternoon; it’s so perfect it’s obviously dubbed, but that’s the point — the artificiality of movies triumphing over the realness of life.)

And Almodóvar’s movie does this as well, twisting into a film-within-the-film and a fantasy-flashback-within-the-film; you need to twist with him, or risk being left behind in the plot’s labyrinthine folds.

The Spanish director, winner of a surprise (and richly deserved) screenwriting Oscar last year for “Talk to Her,” brings his trademark splashes of color to “Bad Education” — even as Enrique sits reading in his dark apartment, a lamp glows cherry-red.

Here he’s created an artful melodrama, about a character who just may be a stand-in for himself. In final notes at the end of the film, we’re told that “Enrique is still making films with the same passion.” May Almodóvar himself continue to do so, for many years to come.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or