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Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!: The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection // NC-17 // August 19, 2014
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 25, 2014 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

The mind of Pedro Almodovar has produced some of cinema's most provocatively mischievous pieces of art, touching on themes of unobtainable carnal desire and gender identity while pushing the boundaries of audience sensibility. Even at his most challenging, he does so in a way that's far from abrasive, where vibrant color palettes and open, frank body language frequently make exploring the nuance of his ideas an utter delight. At the time when Almodovar originally released Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, however, that liveliness mattered little when it came to getting lassoed by the MPAA, deeming its provocative content -- the capture and binding of an ex-porn starlet until she falls in love with her mentally-unstable captor -- worthy of the dreaded "X" rating typically reserved for pornographic material. It's a shame, too, because the film's evocative design transcends the wacky concept's exploitative and smutty artifice, rarely without some engaging underlying purpose or figurative suggestion about the dynamics of courtship, seeking family, and the warped nature of Stockholm Syndrome.

That's not to say Almodovar doesn't intend on rousing his audience with Tie Me Up!, of course, since that's inherent in the pursuits of his twenty-something former (?) psychotic. Ricky, played with casual charisma by Antonio Banderas, has recently been released from his mental institution by court mandate, out into a world where he has nobody and nothing but a bit of cash, his wits, and his good looks. He's not interested in a cavalier life of freedom, though: the first thing on his mind is locating a specific woman and making her his wife. That woman happens to be an former porn actress and drug addict, Marina (Victoria Abril) who's turned her life and acting career around, someone whom Ricky previously shared a night with during one of his brief stints outside the institution. When traditional methods of getting her attention fail, Ricky resorts to more drastic measures, kidnapping her within her own apartment and tying her down on the bed. His objective? Keep her bound, disconnected from work and family, until she falls in love with him.

Almodovar's vibrant style, both the visuals and his presentation of his characters, brightens what's ultimately a rather dark scenario in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. Cutting into the austerity that could come of Ricky's mental instability and Marina's self-destructive former life of drugs and porn, he uses the film's first twenty minutes to introduce the nuance of these characters against his flair for vivid hyperrealism, dressed in bold yet pragmatic colors. Instead of an outright lunatic and thief, Ricky's revealed to be this charming ward of the state whose prolonged institutionalization may or may not have been justified, despite his inclination towards thievery. Marina, on the other hand, earns sympathy as she attempts to break from her less-savory life, taking a role in a B-grade horror spoof and fighting off the male gaze -- specifically from her director, Maximo (Francisco Rabal) -- and scornful eye of journalists. Both desperately need some form of stability after turbulent periods in their lives, creating a cautious yet optimistic atmosphere as Ricky's roguishness brings him closer to Marina. That is, until violence and confinement put an end to some of the speculation about his sanity.

Clever writing keeps Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! a step ahead of expectations about where the plot's headed, filling in the gaps of doubtfulness about Marina's capture with self-aware subversion of genre conventions. From suspicion about her disappearance to the whereabouts of spare keys to her apartment, Almodovar takes the scenario seriously enough to retain the harrowing nature of a woman being bound and held hostage, yet not seriously enough to detract from flickers of humor and the unhinged romantics of Ricky's intentions. There's playfulness in the sequences involving how Ricky obtains the tools needed to deceive and restrain the object of his affection, from wigs and handcuffs to comfortable rope and less-abrasive tape, that relishes its own idiosyncratic sensibility while tightroping the line between comedy and thriller. That attitude plants the seeds for the organic development of capture-bonding, the film's central conceit, driven by a sneaky juxtaposition of Ricky's twisted grasp on good intentions with Marina's horrified eyes and discomforted squirms in her restraints.

Almodovar's fondness for light arty surrealism occasionally pulls Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! into far-fetched territory -- especially the ways in which Ricky almost gets found out -- yet the chemistry between Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril brings those moments back down to some semblance of reality. Or, maybe their rapport is so engaging and vivacious from start to finish that it doesn't really matter, where the melodramatic fluctuations of their tenuously developing relationship relishes the progression towards Marina's flip in perception. Much of Victora Abril's performance comes from her eyes and her body language, whether she's tied up or not; her tension, instead of disappearing, slowly changes in tone as she becomes more aware of Ricky's intentions and limitations. While captivating, she's ultimately the muse behind Ricky's mania and scheming, brought to life with a deceivingly complex performance from Antonio Banderas that nails his menacing dedication and, ultimately, the likable virtues buried underneath.

Again, though, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is built on a situation whose immensity shouldn't be just shrugged off, and Almodovar knows it. Ricky's perseverance and Marina's opposition actively draw some exaggerated allegorical parallels to the dynamics of opposite-sex courtship, while commenting on the compulsive need for stability and family. The twists and turns of the hostage situation pull those elements together into a peculiar romantic fable that rouses some thought about the way relationships develop -- the hoops jumped through to gain attention, the nature of rejection and acceptance, the emotional bondage and metaphorical bruises -- within the space of Almodovar's elevated reality. While its scenes of provocation and passion may earn its (re-rated) NC-17 label along the way, they also muster a unique grasp on this unsavory beast of a young man displaying genuine fondness for a weatherworn beauty beyond his common, inexperienced means. Can Ricky's actions be justified? No, and Almodovar doesn't try to do that, but Tie Me Up! does unjudgingly play with the idea of whether Marina would've completely broken from her own personal restraints without getting tied up with her psychopath.

The Blu-ray:

The Criterion Collection have relieved Pedro Almodovar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! of its restraints and released it into the world of Blu-ray, packaged in a sleek-minimalistic two-disc set: Disc One being the Blu-ray; and Disc Two being the fully-featured DVD. Pop artwork adorns both the inside and out, reflective of the film's scenes and intended themes, with a cute scuba-diver graphic underneath the layered discs. Customary for Criterion, a substantial Booklet has been included with, along with information about the transfer and production credits, three noteworthy textual features: two pieces from the original Spanish press-book for the film -- "The Birth of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, an essay about the film's roots by Pedro Almodovar; and "Aimed at the Heart and the Genitals", an interview with Almodovar -- and a new conversation between Kent Jones and filmmaker Wes Anderson, entitled "Visions of Desire".

Video and Audio:

Under the supervision of director Pedro Almodovar and producer Augustin Almodovar, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! has been restored and scanned at 2k resolution from the original 35mm camera negatve, serving as the basis for Criterion's 1.85:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer. Therefore, it's safe to say that this treatment receives a big stamp of approval from those involve, though the excellent of this nearly-immaculate, balanced, satisfyingly colorful Blu-ray presentation wouldn't doesn't really need it. A healthy veil of natural film grain covers the image from start to finish, while a few mild speckles here and there serve as reminders of the print's vintage. Aside from some scenes that inherently lack more depth than others, everything in Jose Luis Alcaine's cinematography looks spectacular: warm skin tones and vivid greens, oranges, and blues deliver an impressive amount of pop; the darkness of shadows during Ricky's nighttime endeavors through the city never crush out details; and the intricacy of details, from the spiral of rope to ornate drapery and close-ups on skin, are immensely detailed. It's stable, organic, and a beautiful representation of Almodovar's unique aesthetic perspective. Bravo, Criterion.

Again, Criterion refers to original film elements for the film's Spanish 5.1 surround presentation, remastered at 24-bit, and there's more sonic intrigue within Almodovar's film than one might expect. While it's true that most of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! exhibits the trappings of a front-heavy, dialogue-driven indie, there are pleasing moments -- Marina's sister as she sings at a party; the zip of a scooter; the crunch and shattering of a glass against someone's head -- threaded within the soundtrack that discover some unique depth and clarity. Dialogue pours through clear as a whistle, showcasing the right amount of depth against the bass track and upper-end clarity, pairing well with the atmosphere of Marina's claustrophobic apartment and the winding maze of the Spanish city used for filming. No discernible distortion and no hiss during Almodovar's scenes of near-silence. The subtitle translation is grammatically strong and easy to follow, though there are one or two missing words earlier in the film. Overall, enjoying the film's rhythm in dialogue and music is quite delightful through Criterion's Blu-ray.

Special Features:

Untied: Reflections on Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (28:14, 16x9 HD):
While the description on the back on the Blu-ray labels this a "documentary" on the film's making, it's much closer to a loose, conversational retrospective with director Almodovar and his crew and actors. That, of course, isn't a bad thing whatsoever: along with their director, this piece features frank interviews with actors Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril, cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, and Almodovar himself. The piece offers anecdotes about Almodovar's meticulous directing style, improvising ideas on-set (such as Banderas' wig), celebrating the film's release and weathering the challenges of an X rating. Coupled with great still images and some behind-the-scenes footage (including repeated footage from the film's lively premiere, also), and you've got a great, well-paced reflection from Criterion.

Pedro and Antonio (26:11, 16x9 HD):
Criterion have also included a great vintage conversation with Almodovar and Banderas, bouncing discussion between them about the film's significance on Banderas' career, how Ricky serves as a culmination of Almodovar's other characters portrayed by Banderas, and the casts' willingness to improv situations. Almodovar pulls out a binder full of photographs at one point that elevates the discussion. The conversation reveals the great working and friendship rapport between the actor and director, culminating in a casual and enjoyable insight into the film's production, serving almost as a partial substitute for a commentary.

A somewhat mundane and appreciative interview with Sony Pictures Classics' president Micheal Barker (14:56, 16x9 HD) has also been included, focusing on his discovery of Almodovar's work and further collaboration with him, staying largely general in discussion with only tastes of information about Tie Me Up!. Wrapping things up are a vivacious Theatrical Trailer (2:25, 16x9 HD) and an edited-together recording of the film's actors singing the song "Resistire" (4:00, 16x9 HD) during a premiere event.

Final Thoughts:

Pedro Almodovar's fusion of effervescent filmmaking and provocative tendencies reaches a complicated high in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. Born of the macabre advances of a psychotic suitor who physically captures the attention of his desired mate until she (hopefully) falls for him, it's a bleak premise that's brightened by the director's playful interest in Stockholm Syndrome and developing unconventional relationships through outlandish situations. Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril add both reputable tension and involving chemistry to the space within Marina's apartment, shaping the psychodrama of the kidnapping into an intriguing depiction of blemished, needful people reacting to an unsavory situation. Almodovar's ardent style and non-judgmental sympathy for his characters elevate the experience into something oddly enjoyable and thought-provoking, and not without things to say about the conventions of everyday courtship. Criterion's Blu-ray is a wonderful presentation of the director's vivid cinematic style, and a collection of interviews with Almodovar and his cast fill out the pleasing extras. Highly Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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