The Tango Chose Me
by Valorie Hart
Copyright (c) 2000, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved
Every relationship, whether personal or professional, goes through the “honeymoon” phase, that special window of time where everything is new and fresh and interesting, filtered through the warmth of enthusiasm and a willingness to share and to receive. In the first part of the film “The Tango Lesson” Pablo Veron and Sally Potter are having a wonderful honeymoon period.
After a picture perfect cinematic dance in Paris along the banks of the Seine, they are caught in the afterglow and the dialogue goes something along the lines of Sally: “How did you choose the Tango Pablo?” Pablo: “The Tango chose me.”
The word “me” reverberates throughout this vanity piece of a valentine to Argentine tango in general, and Pablo Veron in particular. For a minute I felt like I was watching an old Bugs Bunny cartoon when Bugs decided to make a movie, and the credits roll: Starring Bugs Bunny; Written by Bugs Bunny; Music by Bugs Bunny; Idea by Bugs; Directed by Bugs Bunny in a fabulous story all about Bugs Bunny. Just insert the name Sally Potter for Bugs Bunny.
Now there’s nothing wrong with vanity or with valentines. But both are kind of skin deep and a little flimsy.
As another person that tango has chosen, I long for and embrace any attention that promotes Argentine tango. Sally Potter’s film is a first rate product. I like many things about it starting with the black and white photography, the story (that unfortunately never develops with any depth – but how deep are the sentiments written on valentines anyway?), the players, the locations, the music (Argentine tangos and the soundtrack written by Sally), the cinematography, the dancing. In fact I was excited to palpable emotion the first time I saw the film.
It was exciting to see Pablo Veron on the screen. The camera loves him, and he loves the camera. He’s a natural. His acting is creditable, even though his (and the other) character(s) are one dimensional. His dancing scenes are flawless. A glimmer of what he might do with his acting ability surfaced briefly in the backstage scene after his professional dance performance with Sally. His anger had the inner monologue intensity of other method actors well known to movie goers (Brando, Clift, De Niro, Pacino, Walken, Spacey). I hope other film offers come his way.
Sally Potter fared less well as an actor. Although in both cases Pablo and Sally are playing themselves, Pablo was playing a part, and Sally was being herself for the camera. Madonna did it more dynamically in her film debut “Desperately Seeking Susan”, (and never recaptured the success of that film performance again, until possibly in “Evita”). Sally’s serenity and Mona Lisa smile are at first charming, but ultimately lack energy and become stilted and self conscious. I think she was going for something more natural, and became confused in the process.
Her character seems interesting: successful; older woman; attractive (thin, interesting looking, Hepburn like style); an artist. The premise seemed interesting too: non -Argentine woman discovers the tango and it changes her life. The older woman/younger man love interest seemed equally promising. However, nothing ever happens with any of these interesting ideas. They simply don’t go anywhere.
A surreal scene happens when Pablo stands up Sally on New Year’s Eve, and later turns up at her hotel room, where they decide (at his suggestion) to “sublimate” their sexual feelings into their dancing. Right! Cut to the next scene where Pablo and Sally are rehearsing for their upcoming performance. Of course she’s hurt by his rejection of her as a woman, so she can’t give herself to him in the dance. He becomes frustrated with her for withholding herself as a dancer and feels guilty for rejecting her as a woman who he cares for and who cares for him. Perhaps if his character could really have been a scoundrel of complex and mythic proportions (think Michael Caine in “Alfie”) or a man fully in love with Sally something might have happened between these characters.
The real star of the film is the city of Buenos Aires (co starring a lovely Paris), looking breathtaking in the black and white cinematography used in this film. The real dancers of the milongas fare exceptionally well as actors too. Notable are Carlos Copello and Alicia Monti. Gustavo Naveira and Olga Bessio, and Fabian Salas do well too. Talented dancers Cacho Dante, David Derman, Omar Vega and Chicho all look great on film.
As for the dancing, Pablo Veron is a dancer of incredible and memorable talent. We of the tango world already know this. It’s wonderful that the rest of the world can appreciate this. Gustavo and Fabian and Pablo make up a good team that personifies the vanguard of the new tango dancers. It’s great to watch them dance and horse around. It’s a shame that Sally has to be in every scene of this movie (except for the fantasy scenes about her failed screenplay), so that we can’t see these characters let their hair down without their benefactress in tow. Pablo’s partner, Carolina Iotti is first rate, and it’s a shame we don’t get to see her dance more. As for Sally Potter’s dancing, it’s pleasant enough. Any of the men she dances with could make a paper bag move and look good. If you saw her at a milonga (or danced with her at a milonga) she would be classified as a good dancer. To carry a two hour film about the tango is another thing. I am sympathetic up to a point about her character’s daunting and exhilarating dilemma of learning to dance with the “big boys” of the tango world, and ultimately having to share the stage with the serious talent of Pablo Veron. To say she’s out of her element is an understatement, but I give her credit for even being able to perform any of his choreographic demands. As we all know learning and dancing Argentine tango ain’t easy. I wonder how easy it was for the vanity that propelled Sally to present herself as Pablo Veron’s dancing co-star.
“The Tango Lesson” won the first prize at the Mar de Plata Film Festival, and has gotten it’s fair share of respectable reviews. It is a good product for the tango, but the definitive film about the deep myriad of images, the elements that conjure up strong opinions and provoke emotions that everyone of us who the tango has chosen knows well, has yet to find it’s place on the screen.