Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Loles Leon
Director:  Pedro Almodovar
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  101 Minutes
Release Date:  January 16, 2001

Film ***

I must confess, I havenít seen too many of Pedro Almodovarís filmsÖwhy heís been slipping in under my radar, Iím not sureÖbut I was definitely looking forward to Tie Me Up!  Tie Me Down! when I learned it was the follow up to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which I considered one of the wittiest and most refreshing comedies Iíd seen in the last ten years or so.

I wasnít prepared for this movie, however.  As a critic, I must be honest in my assessment and admit that I liked the film.  As a human being, however, Iím not sure what that says about me.  Iím even less sure what it says about Almodovar.  If ever an NC-17 rating wasnít an arbitrary one, this would have to be the case.

Itís basically your boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy kidnaps girl and keeps her in bondage until she can learn to love him kind of story.  The boy is Ricky (Banderas), who is getting his release from a mental hospital at the pictureís opening.  The girl is B movie actress Marina (Abril), who has a shaky history of her own, dealing with drug dependency.  Ricky comes right to the set of her latest project, steals a few necessary items including the keys to her apartment, and before long, he makes his unwelcome presence in her life.

To say their relationship gets off on the wrong foot is an understatement, and there are a few brief scenes of violence that really jolt and force you to question whether or not this movie is supposed to be funny.  What does Ricky want?  Not a sexual relationship, it turns out.  Heís no rapist.  He wants a wife to take care of, and some kids.  He has loved (or at least obsessed over) Marina for a long time.  He is patient in a way thatís both sweet and psychotic.  He will keep Marina in his control until she learns to love him.

Banderas is the right choice for Ricky.  Itís the kind of role that could easily put off an audience, leaving the film without an emotional backbone.  Heís an actor known for bringing a certain amount of charm to roguish characters, and that aspect lets us stay with Ricky, even though what heís doing is pretty unsettling.  When Marina screams at him that she will NEVER love him, there is even a surprising, disarming scene of Ricky weeping into the bed covers, before he pulls himself together and goes on with the scenario.

As for AbrilÖshe has to get the good sport of the decade award for her role.  Sheís a very beautiful woman and a capable actress when allowed to really perform, but Almodovar seems to make her the object of some very warped fetishes, from the obvious bondage to humiliation, even to urination (was it really necessary that we see her take down her underpants and sit down to pee?  Before you answer, know that the other main actress, Loles Leon, gets her own screen time with the porcelain throne).  Abril is forced to appear naked a lot, and while Iím no prude, I couldnít help but feeling for the actress in those scenarios more than the character. 

And, of course, thereís the famous sex scene, which I found eye-popping even for a guy who sat through the likes of Caligula and Last Tango in Paris.  All in all, Iíd have to say the two leads in the film definitely earned their paychecks for this one.

But apart from the more disturbing aspects of the film (which were meant to be controversial, and succeeded), I still found it appealing overall, mostly from the strengths of Banderas and Abril in their roles.  They manage to keep the scenes just on the inside of being too-disturbing-to-watch, and thereís something about the way their relationship develops thatís strangely innocent, despite the use of tape, ropes and handcuffs.  Plus, Almodovar succeeds in creating a situation where we, the audience, have no clue how things will end up.  There is a kind of structural freedom that could allow him to take an alternate route at any time.  I wonít give away the ending, except to say there are many possibilities as to how these charactersí stories could have ended up, and Almodovar chose one.

For me, the most standout scene involved not the bondage nor the sex, but a well crafted and edited piece that juxtaposes Ricky being revenged upon by some drug dealers, while at the same time Marina is trying to make her first real escape attempt.  Each of these scenes heightens the tension and suspense of the other, and the rhythm in which they play out is terrific.

But in the end, Iím left a little at a loss.  I donít know if Almodovar made this film for his audience, or for himself.  I canít guess as to whether he was trying to make a point about relationships under duress, or if he just filled the screen with images that he personally wanted to see.  As I mentioned, Iím not affluent enough in his filmography to really pass judgment on the man.

All I can say is, I enjoyed the picture, but for extremely different reasons than I enjoyed Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  I canít call it a masterpiece, but I have to admit, it both intrigued me and unsettled me, and has shown definite signs of staying with me.  I may have to do a bit of serious soul searching after I finish writing this review.

Video ****

Anchor Bay delivers yet another top notch anamorphic transfer.  This film is a treasure trove of colors, and they render beautifully:  deep blues, bright reds, and everything in between, with a natural and vibrant look and no containment problems.  Images are sharp and clear throughout, with no noticeable grain or compression.  The print itself is in excellent condition.  Detail is very good from foreground to background, with no softness to mar the strong definition.  This disc is a definite visual treat.

Audio **

The soundtrack is a simple two-channel mono mix, and seems perfectly adequate.  Itís difficult sometimes to judge dialogue clarity for a foreign language film, since youíre paying attention to the subtitles and not the spoken words, but there seemed to be no issues there.  A perfectly decent listen; no more, no less.

Features *

Only a trailer.


Tie Me Up!  Tie Me Down! can be considered both romantic and a comedy, depending on how far youíre willing to stretch your definitions of such.  This NC-17 film is certainly not for everybody, as it mixes the sensual with the disturbing in amounts so equal they nearly cancel each other out.  Overall, I have to give it a marginal recommendation simply because itís that rare kind of film that gets into your head and forces you to think about it afterwards.  With this pristine transfer from Anchor Bay, itís definitely worth a look if you have the faculties for it.