Pedro Almodóvar, 1990
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Loles León, Francisco Rabal
The most quickly descriptive thing I can say about Atame! is that it is delightfully offensive. A young, energetic Banderas plays Ricky, a troubled young man recently released from a psychiatric hospital. He stalks and kidnaps Marina, an ex-junkie porn star turned actress who he has decided to love, cherish, and marry. His plan is that by kidnapping Marina, she will have time to get to know the real him and also fall in love. Marina is naturally horrified and tries to escape, but Ricky is determined that she will come to love him in time.
At its essence, Atame! (meaning "tie me up") is a romantic comedy and, as much as it chagrins me to admit it, one that I was tricked into thoroughly enjoying. It's partly so entertaining because it openly mocks the narrative structure of most romantic films and the often flagrant misogyny found in that genre. The two main characters are attractive, but are deeply emotionally damaged and not overly intelligent. Marina has spent most of her life as a promiscuous heroin addict who made a career in porn and is finally turning to legitimate film, though of course it is a horror production. Ricky grew up in a psychiatric hospital where he survived by pimping himself out to the older female staff members. These two emerge from their supposedly tormented pasts to pursue a normalized heterosexual model of adult life, though Almodóvar pokes a great deal of fun at the ridiculous nature of heterosexual courtship and love.
Though this is one of his less colorful, more subdued works, it still comes highly recommended. Atame! is Almodóvar's eighth film and was critically and financially successful if controversial. The original NC-17 rating doesn't make a whole lot of sense, though there are some sexy moments and a scene of Loles León sitting down on a toilet seat and peeing. There is nary a hardcore scene to be found.
The references to Stockholm syndrome and John Fowler's novel The Collector are slightly uncomfortable. Not only does Marina convince herself that she loves Ricky, but she also convinces her more suspicious sister, who knows about the kidnapping. In a certain sense the basic plot also reminds me of Shaw's Pygmalion and, as I mentioned, the romantic comedies of the '50s and early '60s. Though Ricky is not trying to mold Marina into a particular role, he is trying to show her the wisdom of adopting a conventional heterosexual romantic role of her own choosing... sort of.
Atame! is usually described as a dark comedy, which I don't think is entirely accurate. There are some dark moments where we don't know how far Ricky is going to take things, but the threat of violence dissolves into sexual tension and humor. Like romantic comedies from the '50s and '60s that I can't help but feel that Almodóvar is mocking, the romantic/erotic elements are blended with moments of oddball comedy. These bits of humor occur particularly on the film set Marina wrapped up before her kidnapping, which is a horror film about a well-muscled, masked half-man, half-undead monster who is in love with Marina's character and, after murdering several other characters, wants to take her with him to the underworld. There are numerous references to horror films throughout, including a nice scene where Marina watches Night of the Living Dead while placidly tied up, waiting for Ricky's return.
There's a lovely soundtrack by Ennio Morricone which is more reminiscent of a horror film than a romantic comedy. Apparently Almodóvar only used about half the score and also mixed in some ironic Spanish pop music. There's a nice DVD from Anchor Bay that has a good print and optional subtitles, though sadly no extras. Definitely track it down, particularly if you are a fan of unconventional romantic comedies or of Almodóvar's work.