Two school boys, Ignacio and Enrique, discover love, cinema, and fear in a religious school at the start of the 1960s. Father Manolo, the school principal and their literature teacher, is witness to and part of these discoveries. On discovering the two boys' affection for each other, the priest, who is himself engrossed with Ignacio, is jealous and threatens to expel Enrique as a `bad influence'. In an attempt to prevent this Ignacio promises to do whatever the priest asks of him. The priest double-crosses Ignacio and expels Enrique anyway.
The film jumps to the 1980s with the boys now young adults. Enrique (Fele Martínez), a successful film director- on whose studio wall a poster depicting a movie known as "La abuela fantasma" (which shares its title with the original name of another Almodovar film, Volver) is seen- is visited by a stranger (Gael García Bernal) in his office, an actor looking for work who claims to be Enrique's boarding school friend and first love interest, Ignacio. "Ignacio" has brought a short story with him that is about their time at the Catholic school together and the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho). It also includes a fictionalized account of their (Enrique's and Ignacio's) reunion after all those years.
Enrique wants to adapt Ignacio's story into a film, but "Ignacio's" condition is that he play the part of Zahara, the transsexual lead. Enrique remains skeptical, for he feels that the Ignacio whom he loved and the Ignacio of today are totally different people. He drives to Galicia to Ignacio's mother and learns that the real Ignacio has been dead for four years and that the man who came to his office is really Ignacio's younger brother, Juan.
Enrique's interest is piqued, and he decides to do the movie with Juan in the role of Ignacio to find out what drives Juan. Enrique and "Ignacio" start a relationship, and Enrique revises the script so that it ends with Father Manolo, whom Ignacio was trying to blackmail over the abuse to get money for sex reassignment surgery, having Ignacio murdered. When the scene is shot, "Ignacio" breaks out in tears unexpectedly.
The movie set is visited by Manuel Berenguer (Lluís Homar), who has read in the newspaper about the film and is none other than the real Father Manolo who has resigned from Church duty. Manuel confesses to Enrique that the new ending of the film is not far from the truth: the real Ignacio blackmailed Manuel, who somehow managed to scratch together the money but also took an interest in Ignacio's younger brother Juan. Juan and Manuel started a relationship and after a while realized they both wanted to see Ignacio dead. This was facilitated by the fact that Ignacio was a heroin addict. Juan scored some very pure heroin, so that his brother would die by overdose after shooting up.
Enrique is understandably shocked and not at all interested in Juan's weak vindications for what he did to his brother. Finally, before he leaves, Juan gives Enrique a piece of paper: a letter to Enrique that Ignacio was in the middle of typing when he died.
From the style of the opening credits to the score that is heavily reminiscent of the works of Bernard Herrmann, this movie is a homage to classic Hitchcock thrillers such as Vertigo, in which a femme fatale from the protagonist's past surfaces again but has a double identity and hides a dark secret. The content of the film's ending was only resolved in an earlier editing lawsuit.
- never been a fan of suspense/thriller movies, but bad education is a good watch, a movie you would not pass.