Bad Education

Pedro Almodovar doesn't just make movies. Almodovar is the movies. He revels in everything forbidden and forgiving that can transform life into art. Bad Education, coming on the heels of the Spanish filmmaker's Oscar-winning Talk to Her and All About My Mother, is a rapturous masterwork. This story of two priest-abused boys who become lost men is also Almodovar's most personal film to date -- raw with his own feelings about sex, sin, the Catholic Church and the healing power of cinema. In one scene, the pubescent boys go to a movie house and jerk each other off while watching Spanish sex icon Sarita Montiel. That's Almodovar to a T: hand on crotch, eyes on a distant dream.

Bad Education hides its complex structure under the shimmering surface of a decadent film noir. It's 1980 and film director Enrique Goded (Fele Martnez) gets a visit from Ignacio (Gael Garca Bernal), the boyhood pal he hasn't seen since 1964. Ignacio has a script based on those whack-off days at school when Father Manolo (Daniel Gimenz Cacho) fondled the boys. Ignacio (the prime object of the priest's abuse) grows up to become Zahara (also Garca Bernal), a transvestite working clubs with his pal Paca (the hilarious Javier Cmara) and blackmailing the priest for his sins. When Enrique decides to make the film with Ignacio as the star, reality and fantasy collide.

Almodovar mixes Hitchcock with Double Indemnity, a song from Breakfast at Tiffany's and countless other movie references into a hotblooded tale of deception and murder. Garca Bernal, in and out of drag, gives a juicy, jolting performance far removed from his quiet intensity in The Motorcycle Diaries. He is the corrupt soul of a mesmeric movie that offers temptations impossible to resist.

Peter Travers