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TANGO(director/writer: Carlos Saura; cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro; editor: Julia Juaniz; cast: Miguel Angel Sola (Mario Suarez), Cecilia Narova (Laura Fuentes), Mia Maestro (Elena Flores) Juan Carlos Copes (Carlos Nebbia), Carlos Rivarola (Ernesto Landi), Julio Bocca (as himself), Juan Luis Galiardo (Angelo Larroca); Runtime: 115; Sony Pictures Classics; 1998-Argentinia/Spain)
“The dancing is good enough to carry this film alone.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Tango is a romantic musical, supposedly influenced by Fellini’s 8 1/2, with political overtones to its otherwise almost mirthful mood. It brings back memories of the generals of 1976 Argentina and their overthrow of the legitimate government. Emphasizing in one skit how so many people just disappeared during that regime by showing bodies thrown into a mass grave. That gave the film a jolt of fear that suddenly changed its light musical mood.

Saura accomplishes his musical numbers with a rather terse story line which means that if you don’t care for the tango, you could find yourself bored with this slow-moving story. What is exceptional, is how superbly choreographed and stunningly colorful and visionary a spectacle it is. Its cinematographer is the great Vittorio Storaro (Last Tango in Paris).

Saura captures the passion of the tango, using Mario (Sola) as his alter ego to hold his story together. The tango master explains to us that the tango is excellently done when experienced dancers can perform it so that it appears that there is one body and four legs in motion.

As the film opens, Mario is in his opulently decorated apartment recovering from a broken leg in a car accident. He is despondent that his wife Laura (Cecilia) has left him for another man, presumably a younger man (as far as I could tell, Mario must be somewhere in his forties). He is busy at his desk preparing a film that he is directing about the history of Argentina, starting at the turn of the century. In his vivid imagination he intercuts what is currently happening, envisioning how he saw things as a child and trying to imagine what the film he is directing will be about. All this imagining leaves the audience trying to figure out what is real and what is illusionary, as the story revolves around Mario’s tremendous passion for the tango and his need to be with a woman who shares his zest for life.

Mario meets a 23-year-old novice dancer through a gangster, Angelo (Galiardo), who happens to be her live-in boyfriend. And, as the main backer of the film, Angelo requests Mario try her out for a part in the film. Mario falls in love with her–and is concerned when she tells him that if she leaves Angelo, he threatened to hurt her. When he is with Elena, he seems to be over carrying the torch for his ex-wife.

There is lots of innovative dancing; Mario offers in his role lots of deep brooding thoughts about life and what must go into the film to make it arty. We see a wind machine and the next thing we see is a sultry tango being performed; sets are designed out of seemingly thin air, there are color filters for dance numbers created on the spot; and, there’s a West Side Story look-alike number with all male dancers.

The dancing is good enough to carry this film alone. The tango is danced with passion by everyone; especially graceful were the two women stars along with the great tango dancer, Julio Bocca. But the story, that’s another story, it just didn’t seem that important. The only scene of dialogue that I thought was really well-done was when Mario was on a dinner date with Elena and was trying to explain and sell himself to her, telling her how he thought like a young man even if he was getting old. He was eventually able to convince her of this by just being himself.

The mood that the musical numbers set was dreamlike, and the dancing was always energetic; the music remained in my head long afterwards.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”