Movie Magazine International

The Tango Lesson

UK/France/Argentina - 1997

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

The latest from filmmaker Sally Potter, best known here for her film "Orlando," has moved from the realm of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set to Danielle Steel and the romance novel crowd. In "The Tango Lesson" playing herself, she chronicles her amour fou with the tango and, inevitably, her younger, impossibly sensual tango instructor. As a visual tribute to the tango, and tango-meister, Pablo Veron, it's above reproach. But how infuriating to discover not that this intellectually challenging filmmaker dreams up such pedestrian erotic fantasies, but that she thinks it makes for a good film.

Potter has an arch, mannered style of storytelling that is either enchanting or infuriating, depending on your disposition. Hers is an orderly world. Images are composed just so and the motion involved is regimented into formalized gestures almost like those found in Japanese noh theater. The tango, with its precise movements yet undertow of seething passion is an unexpected but interesting subject for that vision. The romance, however, stymies her sense of irony. The sly deftness evidenced during a script conference with "hollywood" types is entirely lacking during the film's tender interludes.

Potter sees a performance by Veron and approaches him later for private instruction. She shows little promise at first, but eventually improves to the point that Veron invites her to perform with him on stage. They rehearse, they discuss their sexual tension, he stands her up on New Year's Eve. They dance, they squabble, he learns to respect her art as she respects his. It's an artfully filmed story with a plot that will surprise no one over the age of six months.

One can't fault Pablo Veron. As a dancer, he's powerfully graceful and sexy. He's so good that he can dance with a chair and make it look like Pavlova. Potter would have served him better, though, by forbidding him to speak on camera. As for herself, she's an interesting actress with a dreamy enigmatic quality. She would have served herself, and "The Tango Lesson," better with a script written from the head, not the gonads.

© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 12/24/97

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