Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

When Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is released from a mental hospital, he makes it his goal to find Marina (Victoria Abril), a former pornographic actress hoping to break into the film industry, and start a family with her. Though he finds her on the set of her first movie, she fails to realize that they had met some time ago and shared a one night stand. The encounter leaves Ricky confused and frustrated so he decides he has no choice but to break into the actress’ home and keep her there against her will until she starts to reciprocate his feelings.

Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, “Átame!,” explores Stockholm Syndrome through an alternating comedic and dramatic lens. On one level, it is fascinating because Marina learns her value by being in control of a man. She does not value herself not because she starred in pornographic movies–after all, a person must go through whatever means to survive–but because she knows she is addicted to cocaine, aware that it is bad for her, and yet she continues to put the poison into her system. By spending time with Ricky, as twisted as it is, she feels loved: love outside of her fans’ adoration and love outside of family attachment and obligation. Through this intense, charming figure, somehow she learns to love herself.

On another level, it is interesting to watch because Ricky is not someone anyone can easily root for either initially or at all. We must not forget that he hits her multiple times and ties her up to the bed every time he has to run an errand. No one should condone violence against women but, surprisingly, what they share works because the writer-director has found a way to get the film’s message across with enough clarity and insight relative to the rules it sets up for itself.

Abril and Banderas are dangerous and sexy together. I loved looking at Abril’s face because it seems to transform under a specific light combined with a specific emotion. Her face reminds me of the fire in Juliette Binoche’s prototypical characters when they are threatened and the tenderness in Sarah Michelle Gellar’s when they are showered with flattery. The bizarre couple’s one and only sex scene holds a certain irony. Marina is pornographic star but the love scene is far from pornographic. Also, it is well-placed within the film’s arc because it is the moment when we are able to see clearly that Marina has fallen for her captor. The way she asks, nay, commands him not to pull out as they share an intense orgasm, normal for any couple with a healthy, two-way sex life, is almost romantic. I say “almost” because we do not forget how their relationship is forged.

However, I wished that two supporting characters had more time on screen: Lola (Loles León), Marina’s sister, and the drug dealer on a Vespa (Rossy de Palma). Both are strong women who know what they want and when they should come and grab it. If the two of them had been more developed, it would have been more obvious that Almodóvar does not condone violence toward women.

“Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” is kinky, daring, and unapologetic in terms of the images and implications it puts out there. The final scene in the car when a song is sung is cathartic and moving yet open to interpretation. It dares to leave us hanging.

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