Tango (1998)

Review #1,040

Director:  Carlos Saura
Cast:  Miguel Ángel SoláCecilia NarovaMía Maestro
Plot:  Mario Suarez is a forty-something tango artist, whose wife Laura has left him.  He leaves his apartment and starts preparing a film about tango.

Genre:  Drama / Music / Dance
Awards:  Won Technical Grand Prize (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Feature.  
Runtime:  115min
Rating:  M18 for sensuality, some disturbing images and brief language.

In a year with Life Is Beautiful (1997), it would have been a shock if Tango won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Feature.  But one shouldn't be surprised that it won the Grand Technical Prize at Cannes for cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.  It is a visual delight, full of colours and many shots are elegantly composed and lit.  On many occasions, lighting changes within a long take, giving us sharp shadows and intoxicating hues of purple, yellow and red. 

This is also a movie about movement.  I would like to think of it as an intertwining dance between actor and camera.  Storaro captures all the exquisite goodness of the art of tango in this quite alluring film about a man recovering from an accident who attempts to direct a piece about tango, after feeling a sense of loss both psychologically and emotionally.

Directed by Carlos Saura, one of Spanish cinema's most respected filmmakers, Tango was shot wholly in Buenos Aires, which have led some critics to label it an Argentinean film.  Starring Miguel Angel Sola as the man in question, the picture features decent acting performances, though in this drama-lite movie, the 'performances' of dancers left a more indelible impression. 

Together with the music, some of which are composed by the great Lalo Schifrin, Tango becomes an art film about art.  However, there seems to be too much tango, which depending on how you look at it, would mean glossing over the drama thus rendering the film lightweight, or that it is simply a 'documentary' about the art. 

Saura intentionally makes us aware of the camera, that he is documenting a live art in action.  We see the camera crane roving about in the dance studio, being reflected in the mirrors and sometimes staring back at us.  It is not so much a meta-film; rather Saura tries to situate the viewer in a position of omnipresence.  He doesn't allow us to create, but to observe the character/subject and the art of choreography. 

The climax is quite breathtaking and unexpected, ironically reinforcing the idea that Tango is all about drama (of theatrics) through performance (of choreography), rather than drama (of character and narrative) through performance (of acting).

Verdict:  Too much tango glossing over the drama makes this visual delight more lightweight than expected.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)

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