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A Vivid Blur
on December 12, 2000
Carlos Saura's Tango is a film about art imitating life. In this case the art in question is a stage production composed of several elaborately choreographed tango dances that will attempt to encompass years of Argentine history along with the all its author's ill-defined compulsions. That author, or in this case the director, is Mario Suarez (Miguel Angel Sola), a quite, recently single middle-aged man. In the film's opening scene, the camera pans over cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's breathtaking rendition of Buenos Aires and into the director's apartment where he sits, miserable and lonely listening to an intense carol on a well worn gramophone, the subtitles say "Oh life is strange". It's a great opening scene.
Mario is upset at Laura, the women he used to live with, and angrily confronts her. "I am living with another man now. I'm happy" she says. The situation frizzles relatively peacefully. But Mario still has to work with her, and watch as she dances the tango with her new lover. Later, at a party he is surprised to learn that one of his investors, infact the one who is putting up half of the money is a Mafioso (Juan Luis Galiardo), who asks Mario to consider casting his petite, dance loving girlfriend. The Mafioso is an entirely reasonable man, "I realize that what I'm asking is expected, but all I ask is that you audition her. No favoritism." Then he points out the splendid girl in question, Elena (Mia Maestro), dancing with an older gentleman. Mario is understandably smitten. He instantly agrees.
Before you start drawing parallels with Woody Allen's wonderfully off the wall Bullets Over Broadway, the resultant love triangle or (square, if you add Mario's ex-girlfriend into the equation) is largely expressed in numerous, intense tango dances that may be part of the show's rehearsals or just a figment of Mario's imagination. In an early scene, Mario, in heavily metaphorical mood describes himself to Elena as "One of those lions that roam Africa. A solitary creature." She smiles, a little puzzled. "I know my analogy is pretentious. But vivid." Which exactly describes tango heavy rest of the film, pretentious yet vivid.
Speaking of Tango, that lecherous dance. The sequences in the film are self-contained masterpieces of lighting and choreography. And for this, Storarro and the production designer deserve as much credit as the the writer/director, Saura. You'd think that once you've seen one perfected dance, you've seen them all. Not so. Each dance has its own energy, intrigue and personality. Had these dances more life to imitate, and had they been used more economically they would have really meant a lot more. As a result, a film with over one hour of dance will irritate dance fanatics with the unnecessary story, and will be bemoaned by movie lovers who want more of that story. Moreover, as surprisingly malleable as Tango is, it can not in of itself tell a story. At one point an anxious Mario reflects on what there is of his dilemma and says something to the effect of "I've lost a woman, now I've fallen for another. Is it love, or is just obsession. How can I dramatize this (make a dance of it)? No, this is just silly. It can't be dramatized". That's sound advice. Saura should have listened.