Dance With Me: It Takes Saura To Tango



Directed by Carlos Saura

Starring Mario Suarez and Mia Maestro

Sony Pictures Classics

Two dancers are silhouetted against a white screen. They approach each other slowly, seductively. The dance begins--silent, sensual, hypnotic. The dancers circle each other, trapped in a deadly game of passion of which neither seems to have complete control. Suddenly they surrender into each other’s arms, and the silhouettes fade into blackness.


Oh no--not another film about ballroom dancing, you say. You can see it already--Girl meets Boy, but Boy doesn't know she's alive. Boy loses partner. Suddenly Girl lets down her hair and transforms into Miss Latin Dance Queen. Boy falls in love with Girl, and voila--end of story. Not so here. To start with, Girl already knows how to dance, and Boy (and no, ladies, don't get your hopes up, he's not Chayanne) is going through a mid-life crisis. What kind of a movie is this, anyway?

The appropriately named Tango is one of a long line of credits acquired by prominent Spanish director-writer Carlos Saura (Carmen, Flamenco), who in this film views the tango through a dance and image-intensive, minimalist action approach. Mario Suarez, played by award-winning Argentine actor Miguel Angel Sola, is creating a tango movie to be filmed in a studio in Buenos Aires. He incorporates into his work aspects of his own life, including the pain of his recent marital separation from the talented dancer Laura Fuentes, as well as his growing passion for the ingenue Elena--a role played with a brilliant combination of sensitivity and seduction by 22-year old Argentine actress Mia Maestro in her film debut. But the main character is none of these, for it is the tango itself that dominates the scene, controlling the dancers and manipulating their emotions even as they struggle to master its sinuous moves.

Whereas in other ballroom films, dance merely reinforces what the audience already knows about the characters and their situation; dance in Tango amplifies emotional subtlety and addresses issues of significance beyond that of the immediate scene. It is a surprisingly effective cinematic tool that manages to keep the audience hypnotized for a length surpassing that which Hollywood directors would dare to attempt without dialogue.

The music of the tango brings to mind forgotten memories of the past, the haunting of the soul. It whispers seduction amidst shadowy figures in a dim and smoky room. Tango acknowledges and effectively uses these images, but it also creates a stylized, occasionally surrealistic atmosphere that carries the tango beyond its conventional setting. This highly theatrical effect is achieved by the creative talent of Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, three-time Oscar winner for best photography in films such as The Last Emperor. The music is a combination of traditional tango music by famous Argentine composers and several original pieces by Lalo Schifrin, known in this country for his re-working of the Mission Impossible theme for the 1996 film starring Tom Cruise.

Tango is striking example of how a film can grasp an audience's attention with very little definitive action. A good sized portion of the film consists of dance numbers, in which Storaro takes advantage of the studio setting to use shadow, silhouette, distorted mirrors and moody lighting gels to create a dreamlike, often unrealistic effect. In the empty studio, Mario plays out his romantic fantasies and nightmares, always leaving a tinge of uncertainty as to what is real and what is imagined. Into this world Mario draws the other characters, helplessly entangled as their emotions become prey to the violent expressiveness of the tango.

The film culminates with several gripping sequences (featuring Elena) from Mario's film. The audience is enraptured with the fatal attraction of the dance. Yet suddenly we are briefly jerked back to the unresolved reality of the plot before the credits begin to roll, leaving the audience without a lasting impression which seemed so promising just a few moments before.

Although its finale lacks intensity, Tango remains an innovative exploration of human passion through the expressiveness of dance. A refreshingly creative piece full of effective imagery and irresistible music, it captivates and draws the viewer into the very depths of the world of the tango.

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