TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! (Atame!) (Spain, 1990) *** 1/2
In TIE ME, Almodovar, Spanish cinema's brat who thumbs his nose at filmic conventions by exaggerating them, takes a minor but serious movie genre, pushes it to extremes and turns it into a comedy. This genre is the captor-captive movie. TALKLiliana Cavani's scandalous THE NIGHT PORTER had a former Nazi concentration camp commandant and his former victim enter into sadomasochistic games. In William Wyler's obsessive THE COLLECTOR, a young man adds to his butterfly collection a woman he is infatuated with. In the romantic THE WIND AND THE LION, a Moroccan desert prince captures an American widow, and her admiration. And so on.
What Almodovar does in TIE ME is to take themes along such lines but de-dramatize them with that special Spanish variant of kitsch known as "hortera."
Ricky (Banderas), released from a mental hospital, has a fixation on former hooker Marina (Abril) with whom he once had a one-night stand. She is now a porn-horror star and something of a junkie--which in Spanish is pronounced "yunkee," perilously close to "Yankee."
Ricky forces himself into her apartment but not on her. He declares: "I am 23, I have 50 thousand pesetas and am alone in the world. I would like to make a good husband for you and a good father for our children." Then this peculiar lover, more swain than swine, proceeds to tie down Marina, oh so gently. Yet as he had battered her a bit, and she also has other pains, he proceeds to take care of her needs.These include analgesics as well as heroin.
Ropes and devotion create bonds. Bondage leads to bonding. When Ricky comes "home" all bloodied up by street druggies, Marina's maternal-sexual feelings are aroused. True love explodes.
One should not dismiss this situation as a misogynist fantasy by a homosexual director (which Almodovar openly is). On the contrary, Almodovar's screen world is sympathetically and empathetically populated by female protagonists. More than anything else, the point here is to make a parody of pulp literature, film romances, B-movies, and the post-Franco Spain which has been catching up with modern times with unfettered, bewildering speed.
By itself, the main sex-love theme cannot convince us or sustain the movie, but Almodovar throws in non-stop peripherals, some pathetic, some not, all of them funny. Marina, who looks like Rosanna Arquette's Iberian cousin, is introduced as the movie she stars in is winding down.
It is directed by Maximo Espejo(Rabal) whose name--what a stroke of genius!--means "maximum mirror." A veteran filmmaker, now wheelchair bound, he is hornier than ever and, quote:"making a comeback with a second-rate horror film." Using the film-within-a film device, Almodovar satirizes deliciously yet affectionately the movie-making process and the mentality behind such flicks.
Marina has a comic, outlandish sexual experience in her bathtub, with a wind-up toy. Later, handcuffed to Ricky, she goes out to her friendly, single-mother dentist who generously offers her pills as well as a joint. In search of other pills the two women disturb a fornicating lady-pharmacist who appears girded with a holster and gun.
The television set shows a wild commercial on retirement, with Germans, as young Nazis, efficiently planning ahead, while the hedonistic Spaniards dance.
Bound and gagged, Marina uses the remote control to watch THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD on TV. Ricki's search for dope takes him to the streets, where dealers are seriously talking politics and a junkie offers herself to Ricky for 5,000 pesetas. "Make it 4,000" she then says "since I have herpes."
The movie abounds in paradoxes. The main one is that theoretically, in spite of raunchy language and, at face-value, sordid scenes, TIE ME is neither dark nor squalid. Rather it is on the luminous side, and its vulgarity is systematically de-fanged by Almodovar's eccentric humor. Of course, it is emphatically not to everyone's taste, but if one suspends disbelief and sets aside preconceptions, TIE ME is a wildly entertaining and kinky piece of cinema. It might even tie you in knots.