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‘Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 25, 1990

The cords that tie us one to another -- silken, insidious, invisible -- become literal ropy metaphors in Pedro Almodovar's fleshy love story "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" Though initially rated X (it was released without a rating) and hotly debated, it's a tale not of kinky sex, but of a sweeter human bondage, of loose ends tied into lover's knots.

If "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" was a satire of the faithless Lothario, "Tie Me Up!" is its darkly comic, slightly spooky antithesis, the story of an all-too-devoted lover. But don't expect "Moonstruck." This is stronger stuff, a combination of "The Collector" and a lurid technicolor romance. Or as a line of dialogue informs us, "Horror or love story, it's hard to tell them apart."

Victoria Abril, an Almodovar heroine from the tip of her sharp tongue to her painted toes, is Marina, a former junkie and porn star struggling for equilibrium. She seems just to be coming into her own as a relatively respectable B-movie queen when she runs up against Ricky (Antonio Banderas), a 23-year-old handyman just released from a mental hospital.

With his Bates Motel burr, gaunt good looks and tortured eyes, Ricky is obviously not your ordinary stage door Johnny. Should there be any doubt, a "Psychoesque" refrain announces him like an insistent doorbell on a stormy night in Transylvania. During one of his many escapes from the hospital, he spent a night with Marina and has since determined that he wants to marry her and raise a big family. When Marina ignores his suit, he decides to kidnap her, convinced she'll grow to love him.

"I'll never love you, ever," says Marina, understandably enraged at being handcuffed, gagged and lashed to the bed. "We'll see," says Ricky, who would do anything to win her heart. When valentines, compliments and headstands don't work, he opts for stronger methods. Some people use guilt and bribes, but Ricky is incapable of subtleties, so he is astonished at what ultimately wins Marina's affections -- that old standby, neediness. Deep down inside, Marina is a nurse.

Upon finally discovering the heroine's plight, her sister Lola (Loles Leon) is astonished to learn that Marina really no longer wants to be rescued. "How can you love someone who ties you up?" she asks. "That's not normal." Obviously Almodovar believes that attachment is the norm, that love is a sticky lariat. A writer-director driven by his passion, Almodovar allows his movies to moan and sweat and writhe. Sex looks like sex, not pornographic but messy and warm. The curtains do not billow, the sheets burn.

X marks the G-spot perhaps, for this is an orgiastic comedy of terrors and errors. More likely X denies the disquieting truths that only art can speak, with brazen guile in this instance. Viewed superficially, "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" is a NOW nightmare, but suffice to say it's the women, calm and sure, who take the reins.

"Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" in Spanish with subtitles, is unrated but contains explicit sex.

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