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TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! (ATAME!) (director/writer: Pedro Almodovar; screenwriter: from the story by Pedro Almodovar; cinematographer: Jose Luis Alcaine; editor: José Salcedo; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: Antonio Banderas (Ricky), Victoria Abril (Marina Osorio), Loles Leon (Lola), Francisco Rabal (Maximo), Julieta Serrano (Alma), María Barranco (Doctor), Rossy de Palma (drug dealer on a Vespa), Lola Cardona (Hospital Psychiatric Director); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Enrique Posner; Anchor Bay Entertainment; 1990-Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)
“A curiously uplifting watch despite such a morose subject-matter.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Leave it to bad boy Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”/”Law of Desire”/”High Heels”) to turn a routine hostage story into a kinky romcom that examines such things as the power struggle between the sexes, the side-effects from the addictions of sex and drugs, and the mad quest to be normal in a conformist society. It was a big hit in Spain, but when released abroad it raised controversial questions over a marriage kindled through a kidnapping that left a bad taste in the mouth of many. Almodovar offers no ethical opinion on the controversy raised, he just goes Bunuel on us to present a lurid black comedy about the many sides of love. The plot is similar to John Fowles’ the Collector, but with Almodovar’ eccentricities as add ons. It’s set in modern-day Madrid.

Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is a hunky 23-year-old thief and handyman just released from a mental hospital and given by the hospital director (Lola Cardona) he sexually serviced a gift sum of 55,000 pesetas. He goes to Madrid to meet the curvaceous Marina Osorio (Victoria Abril), a porn actress and junky, who he slept with one night when he escaped from the hospital and believes he has fallen in love with her. Ricky seeks to meet Marina again and win her love and to be normal by getting a job and marrying and raising a big family. Marina is currently working on a soft-core porn horror/love story film called “Midnight Phantom,” with wheelchair-bound, recovering from a stroke, aging, lecherous director Maximo (Francisco Rabal). He’s sexually obsessed by Marina and masturbates watching her old porn films. Meanwhile Marina’s sassy sister Lola (Loles Leon) works as Maximo’s assistant, and her main job is to keep the horny director off sis and relay all the director’s love advances to her.

When the sharp-tongued Marina rejects Rick as he sneaks into her studio, on the last day of the shoot, the possessed man shoots for Plan B and goes to her apartment. When she screams at the house intrusion, he accidentally knocks out her tooth by conking heads to gain entry. Rick then ties her up on the bed and gags her when she retorts “I’ll never love you, ever.” Not stymied, he only figures that it will now take him longer than he planned to woo her. Throughout the ordeal Rick goes out of his way to score drugs to relieve Marina’s toothache, and keeps assuring her his love is real. When Lola finally discovers the kidnapping, an example of Stockholm Syndrome sets in and Marina instead of wanting to be rescued takes her captor to mom so she can get her marriage blessing.

The performers do wonders with the slight risque material and Almodovar’s deft hand at making the bondage moments funny and the kidnapping less scary as a metaphor for marriage, gave the kinky film enough gravitas and poignancy to be a curiously uplifting watch despite such a morose subject-matter.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”