PEDRO ALMODOVAR WASN'T ever going to let his big chance slip by. When his Bad Education became the first Spanish movie to open the Cannes Festival this year, the director was at his flamboyant best. Surrounded by drag queens and the actresses who have populated his movies - including Carmen Maura and Victoria Abril - he took to the stage lip-synching and simulating a pole dance to Hey Big Spender. The whole Cannes experience, he says, was like a dream. 'People had told me the Cannes audience would be difficult, but they were very generous and tender,' he says. Cannes jury president Quentin Tarantino went as far as to say Bad Education was a 'f***ing masterpiece. I wish it had been part of the competition.' But things haven't always been so peachy. When his 1999 film All About My Mother failed to win the coveted Palme d'Or in Cannes, Almodovar felt burnt by the experience, and vowed not to allow his films to compete again (even though he won the best director prize that year). His subsequent film, Talk to Her, wasn't part of the festival in any way. But the wounds have healed, and this year he was back on the famous Croissette. 'I think it was a prize in itself to be chosen to open the Cannes Festival,' he says. Naturally, the director was concerned about what he'd wear on opening night. 'I spent two weeks worrying about my wardrobe,' he said at the time. 'You have no idea what it's like for a fifty-something Manchego director who Prada, Dior and Gucci want to dress, and they send you two or three tuxedos - and they don't quite fit.' Chubby and grey-haired, the 52-year-old former enfant terrible has changed over the years. Critics praised his previous two films for displaying a new maturity, and for avoiding the campy frivolity of his earlier movies. With 1989's Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! and 1991's High Heels, he was at his most vacuous. But he can't seem to escape his past, and in Bad Education he incorporates some of his earlier campy themes. 'It's inevitable that I've now reached maturity,' he says with a chuckle. 'There's nothing I can do to combat that, but I don't see any contradictions really in including elements like drag queens and transsexuals in my films or returning to subjects I've explored before. On the contrary, it's good to go back and look at it from a different perspective.' With rising Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien) playing the traditional femme fatale, Bad Education harks back to Almodovar's childhood, when the Catholic Church ruled with an iron fist during the Franco era. In the story, a now-adult transsexual is out to wreak revenge on the priest who molested him as a child - only his jealous brother gets in the way and exacts a different kind of revenge. Labyrinthine in its plot strands, it's a film that keeps you on your toes. 'The film requires a long and slow digestion,' Almodovar says. And he's not out to get the Catholic Church, per se. 'It's not necessary. The church is destroying itself every time it speaks to the press. In Spain, they're their own worst enemies. 'I lost my own faith in God during my childhood, but I've remained fascinated by the ceremonies, which I consider pagan. In this film, I've taken over as the writer of these religious ceremonies. I've taken over these characters who are feeding on each other like vampires and I use the church as a decorative element.' One of the main problems with Catholicism, he says, is the priest's vow of chastity - a subject he also examined in his 1986 film, Law of Desire. 'The church has to resolve this issue because I think if celibacy disappears, 80 per cent of the cases of abuse will suddenly disappear.' For Almodovar, the priest isn't the villain in Bad Education. In fact, he's relatively honest. As always, there are no trite conclusions, except when it comes to his cinematic film noir element, when he paints the bad guy as truly bad. 'For me, he's a psychopath,' Almodovar says. 'He seems normal, but is always lying and is able to sleep with men or women to achieve his goals.' That he's also a struggling actor makes the character a kind of in-joke. 'I don't have sexual relationships with the people I work with,' he says in his typical forthright manner. 'I think that would destroy the natural propriety of things. For me, there's nothing less erotic than an actor or a technician looking for work.'