Home Video Hovel: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, by David Bax
There’s an uneasy feeling that comes with watching many of the films of Pedro Almodóvar. His stories are often told with a devil-may-care exuberance despite being stuffed with unsavory and downright upsetting subjects and events. Think of All About My Mother’s pregnant nun with AIDS or Bad Education’s scarred survivors of childhood sexual abuse, all of it in a dreamy and garish presentation. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, new on Blu-ray this week, not only fits right in; it may be the uneasiest of all because it trusts the viewer to understand the awfulness on parade even when it seems that none of the characters does.
Antonio Banderas stars as Ricky, a young man who, immediately following his release from a mental institution, tracks down an actress with whom he is obsessed (Victoria Abril as Marina). He forces his way into her apartment and knocks her unconscious. He ties her up (and down, I suppose) and tell s her later that his plan is to keep her hostage until she falls in love with them. Then he will marry her and father her children. Clearly, this is a horrifying series of events. Except that Marina comes to see it differently as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome sets in and Tie Me Up begins to take on the rhythms of a love story.
In order to thread this particular needle and maintain the film’s poker face (to mix metaphors), Almodóvar needs very skilled actors. Banderas infuses Ricky with a beguilingly childlike nature that tempts you to forgive him. He can’t possibly know what he’s doing, right? Not with that sweet smile. And Abril fills Marina with history. The character did pornography before making the switch to legitimate acting but she’s still being cast for her looks. In the scenes before she meets Ricky, Abril lets us see how she anticipates the men with whom she interacts (directors, neighbors, etc.), knowing that they will have their own ideas of her before she says a word. Through this, we sympathize with her growing affection for Ricky, who holds no expectations of her, apart from her not leaving the apartment.
The production design, art direction, cinematography and even the score (by none other than Ennio Morricone) make everything feel like a lavish circus act or at least a Technicolor melodrama, even when events descend into rape.
That rape scene is the entire film in miniature. Divorced of context, it is a spirited and passionate scene of love-making that is among cinema’s all-time most memorable. That’s because the absence of context is exactly what these characters are experiencing, holed up as they are, playing out scenarios that approximate normalcy. Still, Almodóvar puts his faith in us to see through the façade.
Recently, with the somewhat underrated The Skin I Live In, Almodóvar proved that he could approach this abduction scenario with more sympathy. That doesn’t mean the later film is a corrective to this one, merely a companion piece.
Special features include a making-of, interviews, footage from the film’s Madrid premiere and a booklet that includes a conversation between critic Kent Jones and Wes Anderson.