Starring: Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Loles León
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Running Time: 101 mins
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (¡Átame!) is a Spanish film about a man recently released from a psychiatric facility who kidnaps his favourite adult film actress, in the hope of making her fall in love with him.
Pedro Almodóvar’s filmography is as long as it is acclaimed, but Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! might just be one of his very best. An ingenious film that paradoxically blends a disturbing kidnap story with passionate romance, it’s darkly hilarious and unsettlingly elegant all the way through, subverting all expectations as it tells a shocking and thought-provoking story.
Spain’s best director has always had a fascination for the perverse, using controversial themes and graphic imagery to tell some of cinema’s most memorable stories. Meanwhile, his uniquely bright visual style and capacity for darkly hilarious comedy is unparalleled, and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is the film that embodies those two things the best.
A powerfully incisive portrayal of a kidnapping, the film looks closely at the psyches of both perpetrator and victim, bringing up fascinating and thought-provoking detail you would never expect at first. The plot shares similarities with Almodóvar’s later work The Skin I Live In, but rather than plotting it as an exciting and psychotic thriller, the director tells this story in the form of a romance.
The first act of the film is certainly unnerving, with the opening stages of the kidnapping itself particularly disturbing to watch. However, Almodóvar somehow manages to transform the story into an elegant, romantic and passionate tale that looks at the relationship between kidnapper and victim as two individuals.
Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril are surprisingly wonderful together in the lead roles, perfectly playing up the kidnapper-victim dynamic as well as that of two lovers. Banderas in particular is disturbing yet irresistibly charismatic – a dangerous characteristic – while Abril proves more than a match for him, and is far more than just a damsel in distress throughout.
With the two leads gelling so well together, Almodóvar is able to tell their story as if it were about them genuinely falling in love – not the reality of a forced kidnapping. In that, he directs what you’d expect to be the creepiest scenes in a romantic style, using intimate camerawork and a sweet musical score as the actors cosy up to one another.
You might think that the way Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is stylised would mean that it’s a fully sympathetic portrayal of a deranged kidnapper. However, that’s not quite the case, and although the film does take an unorthodox approach to telling its story, there is still a heap of disturbing drama and dark humour that makes the kidnapper just as much of a villain.
However, Almodóvar subverts all expectations right the way through the film, leaving the true message of the story to reveal itself as the story unfolds, building towards an ingenious and shocking finale that I was absolutely blown away by.
It’s a bold film, yet one that takes what you might expect to be an intense story and portrays in a brighter light. That in itself is a disturbing and even thought-provoking cinematic choice, while the story strikes up numerous fascinating and striking ideas that make it far more than your average kidnap thriller.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is a perversion of what we’d normally expect to see from this type of story, but its unique perspective, coupled with ingenious directing and two wonderful lead performances, make it an enthralling and enormously memorable film. So, that’s why I’m giving it an 8.3 overall.