Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (¡Atame!)
Screenplay : Pedro Almodóvar and Yuyi Beringola
MPAA Rating : NC-17
Year of Release : 1990
Stars : Victoria Abril (Marina), Antonio Banderas (Ricky), Francisco Rabal (Maximo Espejo), Loles Leon (Lola)
Near the middle of Pedro Almodovar's "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!," a young man tells the object of his affection, "I'm 23 years old, I have 50,000 pesetas, and I'm alone in the world. I'll try to be a good husband to you, and a good father to your kids."
It's lines like this that make this deranged black comedy work despite its shortcomings because you never have any doubt that he means it. It's humorous in that scathing Almodovar manner because the man, Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is a recently released mental patient, and the object of his affection, Marina (Victoria Abril), is an ex-porno star and heroin junkie whom he has kidnaped. In Almodovar's world, nothing happens as it should, and the unexpected should be expected at all times.
Almodovar is the kind of director who shamelessly and happily courts controversy with every film he makes. Most people are appalled by his sensibilities, and how he attempts to derive humor from the most seemingly humorless situations. It can be argued that he sometimes goes too far (such as trying to make light of rape in 1993's "Kika"), but in "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" he is only outrageous enough to be noticed, not targeted. The film is fairly raunchy, but considering its subject matter, it could have been much worse.
In the movie, Ricky kidnaps Marina and holds her in her apartment so she can "get to know him better." Ricky honestly believes that if Marina just spends some time with him, she will grow to love him the way he loves her. While this sounds crazy to the rational human being, Almodovar's characters are seldom rational. What may really put some people off is the fact that his plan works. After being initially slapped around and then tied to the bed, Marina develops romantic feelings for Ricky, especially after he is beat up by drug dealers when he tries to get some pain killers to soothe her excruciating tooth ache. At one point, she actually requests that he tie her up so she won't be tempted to escape. Few directors could make that moment touching, but Almodovar pulls it off.
While the idea of Marina falling in love with her male captor seems to suggest that dominating women is a proper method of gaining their affection, I think that Almodovar's cinematic roots argue against that. One of his greatest influences was Luis Bruñel, who was a master of the use of the non-rational in films like "The Exterminating Angel" (1962) and "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972). Bruñel delighted in putting characters into situations and forcing them to work within the strict confines of his universe, which more often than not conflicted with rational thought.
And so we have "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" There is no satisfactory answer to why Marina falls in love with Ricky. But without the relationship turning itself on its head, there would be nothing interesting about the film. It's the reversal of expectations that Almodovar relishes and it seems almost normal in his world.
Almodovar and cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine create a strong visual sense and a dynamic use of color. Although most of the action is confined to Marina's bedroom instead of the bustling streets of Madrid that dominate most of Almodovar's work, "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" has bright, sensuous colors and unusual set designs. The performances by Banderas and Abril are both strong, as well as Loles Leon who plays Marina's sister, and Francisco Rabal who plays Maximo Espejo, a paralyzed film director who is making his last film with Marina as the heroine. The film-within-a-film subplot is a bit distracting, although there are a few scathing moments, such as when Maximo decides to rewrite the end of the film because the producer's wife wants to keep the couch being used in the final scene, and to film it as written would require the couch to be stained with fake blood. Almodovar is known for being discursive, and here he takes a few potshots at the filmmaking process as well as obsessive directors.
Whether you find him offensive or invigorating, it's hard to deny the Almodovar's unique style . He brought a much needed jolt of energy to the world of Spanish filmmaking, which had been lagging since the mid-1970s. Although much of what he does borders of being too bizarre to digest, his cinema is still exciting and often hilarious.
Copyright ©1997 James Kendrick