Atame! (1990) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in yellow, mine in white.

The Robbins recipe: "The Collector" meets "When Harry Met Sally". Just imagine if Sally had met Terrence Stamp instead of Billy Crystal, but fell in love anyway.

Atame! (1990), released as "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" on DVD, stars Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril in a "Comedy/Romance/Drama/Thriller" directed by Pedro Almodóvar. There will be spoilers throughout this review, so if a Black comedy with subtitles and clear nudity from Victoria Abril is something you might watch, you should probably skip to the images (which, in my opinion, are my best in a while).


Victoria Abril is naked in several scenes. Every inch of her body is seen, sometimes in explicit close-ups.

Antonio Banderas shows his buns in a long-distance shot.

Banderas is released from a mental hospital where he has been since an early age. We learn that he has become a handyman, and lover of the female administrator, and several nurses.The administrator feels he is not well enough to go out in society. He, however, is a man dedicated to a mission -- Victoria Abril. Victoria is a former porn star and junkie who is making a "B" movie, who he met in a bar and had sex with during one of his many escapes from the hospital. Obsessed with her after the one experience, he vows to "kidnap" her, and hold her until she returns his love.

Eventually, she is touched by his obvious appreciation of her and the way he takes care of her, and, at the same time, is free from responsibility for a relationship, as he keeps her tied up, and doesn't give her a choice. When he is beaten up trying to buy her drugs to help a toothache, she decides that he didn't deserve that kind of abuse, and has sex with him. It is at this point that she remembers the previous encounter -- the great sex is familiar. He leaves her alone, and her sister discovers and releases her, but she realizes she does love him, and finds him.

The film was slapped with an NC-17 by MPAA. It is easy to see why. Abril moves her hips during sex, and, earlier, masturbates using a bath toy. Masturbation is usually R, but not when it is done by a woman for sexual pleasure without fantasizing about a male partner. Rather than cut the film, Almodóvar had the courage to release it Unrated. If only more film makers would stand up to MPAA, we might have intelligent adult films in the US. Technically, this film is superb. The DP used many innovative camera angles, and the Art Direction is amazing. The DVD transfer is one of the better ones I have seen, although it is lacking in Special Features. The film is in Spanish with English sub-titles (which could have been more accurate).

The critics agree on 2 1/2 stars. IMDB readers say 6.7/10, which is somewhat higher. It is fascinating to read the IMDB comments on this film. People are totally polarized. Many found it to be "dreck," pointless, sexist, and of no worth. Others claim it to be a brilliant black comedy, and a masterpiece by Almodóvar. I agree with those who say masterpiece. Anytime IMDB folks disagree so completely, it indicates to me that something pretty powerful happens in the film to cause that much controversy. In this case, it is a very hot sex scene, and the concept that a woman could fall in love with someone who has imprisoned her. For me, the change from fear and hate to love was believable. First, he took better care of her than she took of herself. Second, they had met before. Third, he genuinely cared and was devoted. Sure, it is not a mainstream relationship, but it is a fascinating view of Dominance and Submission, and explores who is in charge, the "Dom" or the "Sub." The film was, for me, a total delight.

Scoop's comments:

Not much else to say except "I agree", but here are a few thoughts:

  • Almodovar's movies are about lost people - orphans, junkies, pornstars, people of confused sexuality, people with terminal diseases - about how they got lost, and about how they sometimes get found, or learn to accept their loss. Although his subject matter has the potential for Bergmanesque bathos, you'll see none of that. He views his characters with great affection, shows them in bright light and colors, adds optimism to their lives. Banderas hits Abril in the face once, and gets the crap kicked out of him. Abril is a junkie and a porn actress, Banderas is a thief and kidnapper just released from an insane asylum. Sounds depressing and grey, doesn't it? But Almodovar never goes where you think he will, always follows his own beat. He's a different kind of guy - and we need these kinds of guys.
  • It is a beautifully filmed movie. Almodovar loves bright colors, and uses them lavishly. He often uses combinations which sound wrong on paper, but they work for him. His films have a special look which defines his own aesthetic sense. The colors are great, but he also has a gift for unusual camera angles and framing. He just has an interesting way to look at the world, and his visuals reflect that in the same way his scripts do.
  • He also proves that you can make art without skimping on entertainment. As artistic as this film can be, it is also lurid, and involving, and fun, and sexy, and you learn to understand and like the characters.
  • In addition to being a thriller of a fashion similar to the Hitchcock mode, it is also a rare example of a romantic comedy for grown-ups. You might think of it as the skid-row Spanish version of "When Harry Met Sally"
  • I don't know if Banderas and Abril really got it on, but if not, it's about the best faking I've ever seen.
  • I have written before, but would like to repeat, that Banderas was a young actor of exceptional sensitivity until Hollywood set his jaw permanently into that one facial expression.
  • I actually like this movie better than the highly praised "All About My Mother", but "Mother" was a safe film for the Academy to nominate. "Atame" is not traditional Oscar fare, to say the least, and is completely politically incorrect. (On a superficial level, you could fairly say that Abril ends up falling for a guy who abuses her brutally, and that this could not really happen, or should not really happen.)

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, enhanced for 16x9 screens. Lovely transfer.

  • No significant extras.

I don't have any reservations about recommending this film to just about any adult male. The DVD is a beautiful transfer, and thank heaven, because Almodovar's color saturation and presentation are not easy to reproduce.

You may not want to watch this with your significant other. Many women find it sexist, and others may object to the explicit material. On the other hand, let me point out the objective fact that women rate this film much higher than men at IMDb. (7.8 to 6.6)

Stop reading. Rent or buy this DVD, because pleasures like this don't come along very often. You can watch a pleasant movie with great sex and nude scenes and also impress your stuffy friends with your knowledge of a top foreign director.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Maltin 2.5/4, Ebert 2.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.7
  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a hit, but it took in $4 million in the USA. Pretty damned good for an arty unrated movie in Spanish.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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