Nepali Times
A brace of Almodovar

Yes, the two movies reviewed here aren't new by any stretch of the imagination but if you've been to Mahaboudha lately and considered whether you should invest in a 'box set' of all Pedro Almodóvar's films (upto 2006's Volver), the only downside is that with 16 movies on two DVDs, the video quality is just about good enough for laptop screens. But this won't filter out the riot of wild and wacky human experience the Spanish director conjures up for the adventurous viewer.

Matador (1986) and Tie me up! Tie me down! (1989) are vintage Almodóvar, and both feature a young Antonio Banderas. His performances here have nothing to do with the parodies he has too often indulged in with Hollywood productions – nonetheless, they are of a piece with the extreme nature of the films themselves.

Matador tells the story of would-be matador Angel (Banderas), who falls under the spell of the very weird Diego (Nacho Martinez), a matador who has retired since a near-fatal goring but continues to be obsessed with death. "Treat a woman like a bull," advises Diego, and Ángel tries to oblige. He gets into trouble, and indeed seems intent on condemning himself, but the arrival of a seductive lawyer, María Cardenal (Assumpta Cerna), heralds darker times.
The premise of the movie is shocking enough, and Almodóvar has no hesitation in testing his viewers' nerves time and again. But the brilliant performances put in by the cast elevate Matador far above the realm of a gory psycho-thriller B-movie, whatever the parallels.

Tie me up! Tie me down! (¡Átame! in Spanish) seems positively gentle by comparison, which goes to show just how Almodóvar has continually evolved in his capacity to portray a certain cultured brutality, and the lives of those on the fringes of society, with charm and realism. Here we have orphaned Ricky (Banderas again), recently released from a mental institute and hot on the trail of actress Marina (Victoria Abril), a recovering drug addict and former porn star. Ricky kidnaps Marina and holds her captive in her own flat, prepared to wait for her to fall in love with him. The two are as beautiful as they are damaged: "Tie me up …just a little," pleads Marina as Ricky leaves the flat on one of his expeditions to bring drugs for her. Whether you find Tie me up! Tie me down! convincing or not, it's certainly compelling.

Both movies are flashy, dark, and full of sex and violence. But get beyond the distractions, and you'll find that like most of Almodóvar, they delve where we don't often explore on our own, perhaps because we are afraid of what we might learn about ourselves. A great way for Almodóvar fans to sample precursors of his more sophisticated later films.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)