A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, October 31, 2016

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Pedro Almodóvar, 1989)

The vivid Technicolor imagination of Pedro Almodóvar doesn't serve him as well in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! as it did in his immediately previous hit film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). This film feels rather like an uneasy mashup of a romantic comedy and a bondage porno. Actually, "porno" is too strong a word, for even though Tie Me Up! received an NC-17 rating on its release in the United States, there's very little in it that can't be seen any night on the mainstream shows of pay-cable outlets like HBO and Showtime. The most explicit scenes involve Marina (Victoria Abril) taking a bath with a mechanical tub toy shaped like a frogman that nuzzles into her private parts -- a scene that's more funny than erotic -- and an extended sex scene with Marina and Ricky (Antonio Banderas) that's undeniably erotic but not especially revealing -- it mainly shows their upper bodies, except for an overhead shot that reveals Banderas's posterior. What's more objectionable -- especially in the context of today's renewed dialogue about rape and sexual harassment in the context of the presidential campaign -- is the film's central plot premise: Ricky, who has just been released from a mental institution (whose director and nurses he has been happily bedding), kidnaps film star Marina, whom he once picked up and had sex with during an escape from the institution. In the course of trying to make Marina fall in love with him, Ricky keeps her tied up. Eventually, she finds herself falling in love with him, and the film ends with Ricky going off to live with her and her family. It can be argued that the premise is freighted with irony: Ricky's attempt to win Marina leads to his being severely beaten by the drug dealers he goes to see to procure something to relieve her toothache and other pains -- as a recovering drug addict, Marina finds almost any painkiller short of morphine ineffective. The kidnapper gets a measure of punishment for his misdeed, in other words. But the film's unsteady tone and the somewhat pat "happy ending" don't overcome the essentially distasteful sexual politics of the premise. Though it's a misfire, the movie gets good performances out of Banderas and Abril, as well as Loles León as Marina's exasperated sister, Lola, and Francisco Rabal as Marina's director, desperately trying to control the chaotic production of what may be his last film. The brightly colorful sets by production designer Esther Garcia, art director Ferran Sánchez, and set decorator Pepon Sigler, and the cinematography by José Luis Alcaine are also a plus.

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