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I love Almodovar's films, he's an effortlessly entertaining director and always worth watching. After a fresh bout of love for his style in the wake of the magnificent Volver, I got hold of some of his earlier films, including Tie me Up! Tie me Down!
Antonio Banderas plays a mental patient, Ricky, released into the community. A playful young man, he larks about on the set of a horror film, indulging in minor thefts, air guitar and handstands, before kidnapping the lead actress, Marina, and tying her up in her own flat 'until she falls in love'.
It's quite hard to make a sweet comedy out of a film where the lead actor headbutts the love interest and straps her to a bed. But somehow this bizarre film pulls off the trick. Antonio Banderas's charisma helps, and here he is incredibly young and looks quite a bit like Heroes' Zachary Quinto (perhaps it's the eyebrows). Marina is also extremely attractive. One thing that really helps us maintain sympathy with Ricky is the fact that although there is a lot of sex and nudity in the film, the nudity and the violence are thankfully kept separate.
Almodovar also has a lot of fun with the score. Sequences of Banderas tying his intended to the bed are overlaid with gentle tinkling romantic music, mirroring the 'hero's' misguided romantic intentions, while characters driving around in bright sunshine are mixed up with gloomy orchestral clouds. You're never quite sure what you should be feeling and thinking in this film, which keeps the viewer constantly off-balance, but also constantly engaged with the material.
In addition to the kidnap plot, Maximo the film director prevaricates about finishing his horror film - knowing it will be his last. Films within films are always fascinating, and elements of the interview between Maximo and a journalist echo some of Almodovar's pre-occupations in a faintly post-modern fashion.
Other narrative threads that don't really go anywhere include the journalist meeting an old lover on the set of the film, who remarks that she's put on weight. This is never really resolved, but with this mismatched couple, and the randy old director watching porn while giving his wife the cold shoulder, there's a sense that Ricky and Marina's unconventional courtship is being given the director's blessing. These other couples didn't involve abduction, but their participants are still miserable.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! isn't my favourite Almodovar, you'd have to look at Bad Education, All About My Mother, Volver or Talk to Her for that. But it repeats one of the director's hallmarks of presenting an incredibly mismatched large cast of characters, all of whom we eventually come to care about. The riot of ideas presented means the film does lose a bit of cohesion, unlike some of the director's more recent work, but the variety makes it great for a newcomer to Spanish cinema.
I totally recommend the film, although with the observation that it does contain a fair bit of violence against women - which may make it unacceptable viewing for some people. There's also a huge amount of sex and nudity, but then you could probably have guessed that from the title...
I gather this is the last film Banderas made with Almodovar. Although he's done a lot better in Hollywood than fellow Almodovite Penelope Cruz, the strength of his performance here does make me hope that one day he'll follow her example and make the return trip across the Atlantic.
Marina has the world at her feet; she is beautiful, talented and has just finished making a film. She does, however, have her problems - she is addicted to drugs and has a stalker...although she doesn't know it yet. Ricky is a troubled man. He was orphaned at an early age and brought up in a selection of homes, most of them for the crimes he commits on a regular basis. Once he meets Marina during a time when he has escaped from his institution, he falls in love, decides to do his time, and gets released back into society. The first thing that he does is track Marina down and kidnaps her, obstensibly to give her time to fall in love with him before they get married and have children. Will Marina go along with his plans? And if not, how will she escape his clutches?
Directed by Pedro Almodovar, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down is arguably one of his most famous films, in English-speaking countries at least. Having seen a number of Almodovar films, most of which are very colourful and humourous, I thought that I knew what to expect from this one. Almodovar has surprised me here though. Known for his bizarre films, this one makes much more sense than his usual offerings, although if you haven't seen any of them, you might think from the last paragraph that this one is quirky enough.
Antonio Banderas plays Ricky, and is the most important character. Without him, I'm not sure that I would rate this film at all. He does look gorgeous and very young here, which is definitely part of the attraction, but I also really enjoyed his performance. It is obvious from the beginning that he is a rather strange character; he is rather psychopathic and certainly scary. However, we also get to see his softer side, and it becomes clear that there is much more to him than meets the eye. Banderas plays these different layers to Ricky's personality completely naturally, and although what he does at times is really weird, he does it all so well that it doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary.
Victoria Abril plays Marina, and does a good job in the role, although I don't think she is outstanding - she really didn't have to do all that much except look good tied up. However, I did warm to her during the course of the film, so that by the end, I really wanted her story to end happily. She does complement Banderas well, and I suppose that is the most important thing. Her sister, Lola, is played by Loles Leon, and is a much more interesting character. One of the type of women so well portrayed by Almodovar, she is nuts and very capable, but not particularly attractive. Unfortunately, her role in the film is peripheral - I would have liked to have seen much more of her.
The title suggests that this is quite a sexual film, and it certainly does have its moments. I watched it on a train and was a bit embarrassed at one point - thankfully, I think I managed to keep it hidden from prying eyes! However, there is really only one sex scene and it isn't overly graphic, although it does go on for quite a while. There is also quite a lot of the 'c' word for those who find it very offensive, as well as scenes of drug dealing, drug taking and some violence. This is definitely not a film fo the kiddies, and deserves its rating of 18. The film is in Spanish and obviously has subtitles - not a problem for me, but some may not like it. I generally thought the quality of the subtitles were excellent.
Most of Almodovar's films look at the lives of women and their sexuality quite openly, yet are generally quite harmless. This is a little bit different. I can imagine that the kidnap of a young woman could be offensive to some, and whereas everything works out in the end, the way that the story gets there is very pro male. I personally didn't find it offensive - there isn't, for example, any forced sex - but I did occasionally think that it went a bit too far, and when coupled with the lack of humour that I have come to expect from this director, it does come close to the edge at times. Obviously, if you think you are going to be offended, then don't watch it.
There are a number of extras, but only one that is really worth seeing, in which Antonio Banderas interviews Pedro Almodovar. For those interested in such stuff, the other extras include footage from the party after the premiere in Madrid, a poster gallery, production stills gallery and trailers.
I was slightly disappointed by this film. I didn't ever think of turning it off, but it didn't grip me in the way that I expected. I also missed the humour and the utter madness that I have come to expect with Almodovar's films - it was actually all a bit bland. This may be the film that everyone associates with Alomodovar's name, but I would personally recommend starting elsewhere, with films such as All About My Mother and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 111 minutes
"Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" is, in my opinion, the finest of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's movies. The director is famous for his art-house black comedies and "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" (1990) is probably the darkest of all.
Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is discharged from a psychiatric hospital where he has spent the last few years, following a traumatic adolescence during which he repeatedly absconded from a series of orphanages and reform homes. Desperate for a normal life he sets his sights on Marina, a porn actress with whom he had once had a one-night stand. Now acting in dreadful B-movies, Marina is a heroin addict, leading a miserable life. Ricky starts to hang out at the film studios hoping to catch Marina's attention but his attempts are pretty feeble and he fails miserably. Ricky realizes that he will have to resort to extreme measures if he is going to get his girl. He breaks into her flat and takes her prisoner, tying her to the bed to prevent her from escaping. With Marina a captive, Ricky plans to win her heart and is convinced that when she succumbs to his charms, they will lead a blissful life together.
Marina, as you would expect, is not happy about this arrangement. Not only is she being held prisoner in her own home, she suffers badly because of her drug addiction. So sure is Ricky of his plan, that he happily takes all Marina throws at him, turning to crime to make sure she has everything she needs. Eventually, realizing that they have in common a tragic past, the pair start to make concessions with the most surprising results.
On the surface this could be a Hollywood tale of a sinister stalker pursuing a beautiful actress. All the elements are there - kidnap, suspense, sex, drugs .but several things turn this simple idea completely on its head. For a start, Ricky does not tie Marina up for erotic reasons; it is the only way he can think of to get her full attention. It is symbolic that Marina, who would usually be willingly tied up for the cameras should suffer this fate. The notion of the captive as weak and the captor as in charge is similarly dispelled; despite being a captive, it is Marina who calls the shots. The eager to please, almost subservient Ricky will do whatever it takes to convince Marina that they should be together. To throw the viewer completely off balance, this movie is filmed in bright colours and has a real sense of cheer about it. Almodovar's films have always been visually stimulating but the use of these bright colours and light here makes the kidnap situation less sinister than might have been the case if Marina had been held captive in a darkened cellar. It is touches like this that make Almodovar stand apart from the rest.
One especially interesting aspect of the film is the reference to the "Stockholm syndrome" in which captives begin to feel close to their captors. It does not spoil the film to say that Marina does show signs of this but it develops in the most surprising way. Of course, Ricky is not your typical stalker; this is one of Antonio Banderas's finest roles ( I wish he still made these low key Europpean movies) and his Ricky is handsome, charming and vulnerable yet at the same time confident and audacious. The change in this character as the film goes on is just one example of the hilariously dark humour employed throughout; at the beginning he is nervous, struggling to find a way to get to Marina but as time passes he becomes the model "husband", returning home each day, calling to the somewhat tied-up "wife", "Darling, I'm home". It is this humour that takes the film beyond mere thriller and elevates it to a masterpiece.
Victoria Abril is wonderful as the drug-addled Marina. She looks every bit the part of the confused captive but hiding something deep and troubling. She and Banderas complement each other perfectly but it is the supporting cast that give this movie a kick. Rossy de Palma is great as the eccentric drug dealer, Loles Leon fine shines as Marina's long-suffering sister who works hard at keeping her sister clean but most impressive of all is the character of Maximo, the wheelchair-bound director of Marina's film, "The Midnight Phamtom", whose attempts to seduce Marina are as unorthodox as Nicky's although most certainly less appealing.
At the box office the film did well in Europe but audiences were disappointing in the States. This has been attributed the censors rating; this is a highly erotic movie but much of this is implied rather than overt. Sex and nudity do feature but not to any gratuitous extent but it was the "unusual" scene in which Marina plays with a yellow submarine in the bath that shocked the American censors. Viewers considering a DVD purchase in Europe will be able to buy the uncut movie, those in America should try to get the unrated version.
Best described as a "romantic black comedy" (a "roblacom" if you will) this movie will make you laugh out loud but have your mind working overtime to work out the ending. Predictable it is not, throwing into confusion the tried and tested film formulas that dominate Hollywood today. Fans of Almodovar films will love it and I would recommend this to anyone liking something a bit offbeat - one film it puts me in mind of is "Secretary" (starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the kinky boss and his subservient yet smitten assistant) - a touch of romance, a soupcon of smut and bags of style and character. Bondage has never seemed so natural!
Available on DVD and video through the usual internet outlets at excellent prices.
Ricki (Antonio Banderas), is 23 when he leaves a psychiatric hospital were he has spent most of his life, and he has an obsession. Ricki's ambition is to track down and marry ex-porn star and notorious junkie, Marina (Victoria Abril), with whom he once spent the night with. Unfortunately for him she also has another flame, Maxim (Francisco Rabal), a scenerio writer, who is madly impassioned with her as well. Ricki steals the keys to Marina's house from the film set, breaks in, and begins an attempt to make her love him. This is an excentric, offbeat love story (well, what else would you expect from Pedro Almodovar?), that likens Ricki's obsessive love to Marina's drug habit - the sado-masochism is another form of this metaphor for dependency. Almodovar always manages to amuse his audience, and this film is no exception.
Perhaps only Pedro Almodóvar could come up with a story about a mental patient who stalks and kidnaps an ex-porn star--and turn it into a tender love story. But that's exactly what happens in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, a lively installment from the Spanish director's wacky middle period (after the scruffy early films, and before his mature melodramas). Two of Almodóvar's sexiest stars, Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril, play the leads: a cracked young man with dreams of bourgeois domesticity, and an actress who used to specialize in porno and heroin. Despite that fact that he binds her limbs with cord when he leaves the house, he always returns with a cheerful "I'm home!" For all Almodóvar's outrageousness, there's a touch of classical Hollywood in his construction. And while this movie is not for the politically correct, it does play by its own warped rules. --Robert Horton