Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, starring Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lluís Homar, Francisco Boira, Javier Cámara, Nacho Pérez and Raúl García Forneiro.

After the Oscar-winning success of 2002's 'Talk to Her', Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar returns with the vivid and melodramatic 'Bad Education'. It's a complex and sometimes confusing story within a story within a story, told from several different perspectives and ranging from the repressive Franco-dominated 1960s through to a more permissive Spain in the early 1980s.

Enrique (Martínez) is a filmmaker in search of a story in Madrid during the 1980s when an old school friend appears on the scene. His first love until they were separated 16 years earlier, Ignacio (Bernal) is now an actor looking for a job. He has also brought a short story with him entitled 'The Visit' which, he says, is based on their school experiences.

Memories are stirred when Enrique reads the story - their love affair at a repressive Catholic school, the school principal Father Manolo's (Cacho) abuse of Ignacio, the priest's separation of the two boys, Ignacio's later return to the town as transvestite and drug addict Zahara and his attempt to blackmail Father Manolo - and he decides to make it into a film.

But little is as it seems in this multi-layered story. Characters change and flit between the 1980s present and their schooldays past as shown in Enrique's film within the film. Almodóvar uses the device of this film to flash back and move forward but another character, the aged Father Manolo who has left the priesthood and now calls himself Berenguer (Homar), also makes an appearance later in the piece to issue a new series of revelations. 

'Bad Education' is not an easy watch, both for the oblique - but masterfully handled - narrative methods and the child abuse subject matter, with Almodóvar keeping the audience guessing by shifting perspective on victims and villains. Gael García Bernal, memorable for his role in Alfonso Cuarón's 'Y Tu Mamá También', is mesmerising as the story's femme fatale and is ably assisted by Fele Martínez, Lluís Homar and 'Talk to Her's Javier Cámara in a too-short comedic appearance. Nacho Pérez and Raúl García Forneiro are both intense and touching as the young Ignacio and Enrique but the badly dubbed singing scenes at school are jarring.

With a script that moves unevenly between comedy and thriller, Almodóvar sometimes seems uncertain of his ground. 'Bad Education is flawed' - leaving audiences with more questions asked than answered - but stylish.

Caroline Hennessy