Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2016 11:04 pm 
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For the love of tango

This quite wonderful documentary film is a celebration of tango. But more than that it is the portrait of a tango relationship -a lifelong dance that is a battleground for the most famous tanguero couple in the history of the dance, Maria NIeves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes. They are a very active 80 and 83 at the time of the interviews, interviews made separately. They stopped dancing together 17 years ago, a separation imposed by Copes, and by her report, by his wife. Why should this separation be such a big deal for Maria? They met when they were 14 and 17; they danced together professionally for 50 years! Wasn't that enough? No - not for Maria Nieves, because their love-hate relationship was always too fraught for her. They married, they divorced, they broke up several times. Copes had other women, but Maria, no other men, and no children. Un tango mas (the Spanish title) is the story of Maria's passion and torment and dedication to her art and struggle with her partner. Stages in the coupe's life and the history of tango in their lifetimes are illustrated by talented young tangueros, who also interview Maria and sometimes Copes. Maria is stylish, she sparkles, and she smokes. Above all it is a portrait of a partnership so complicated and intense it has never calmed down, and primarily a portrait of Maria; but Juan is always there too.

Tango is Argentina, and it is Buenos Aires: and so the film is punctuated with handsome nighttime panoramas of the city. Juan and Maria still perform (not together), with a perfection that belies their age. Dio they come together on a stage for this film? Yes, but they do not dance, and are not seen speaking together. They walk off on opposite sides of the stage.

We can't complain that all this drama neglects tango. We hear about how the couple met at the milongas, at first amateurs, untutored, just loving the dancing, then being at the grand Atlanta dance hall (now a skating rink) where they became famous. And at these stages the dancers play them, each stage in their lives represented by dancing. We see lots of that, wonderful dancing, by many people, and by Juan and Maria. We learn of the show they brought abroad, dramatized with the "double gaucho", up on a small table. This always terrified Maria, but she had to do it. (Sometimes, as Maria tells it, with her superb Argentine eloquence, her dancing was fueled by love, sometimes by hate.) In a successful bid to make tango a worldwide phenomenon, like jazz, they carried their show to Broadway, where it became so popular it had many Tony Award nominations and went on with other dancers for a decade. We see their triumphant performance in Japan, in their sixties, in 1997. But this is when Juan banished Maria from his life. "I would not have done such a thing to him," Maria declares. Nonetheless early in the film she says "If I died and were to be reborn, I'd do everything the same again. Be a tango dancer above all else - except for being with Juan." Juan's attitude may be summed up in his comment that when he settled upon Maria as his partner, "I had found my Stradivarius."

The beauty of this film is that its separate strains reenforce each other and make them come more alive. Maria even now is passionate, intense, fascinating, and real. The young dancers who perform are exciting and charming and give a sense of vibrant art form still pursued with vigor The portrait of the combative, intense relationship between the two performers not only underlines the emotion that's in tango, but makes clear that the dancers are first of all people. This makes Carlos Saura's musical films, good as they are, seem a little distant and artificial in comparison, a little narrower in context, because their performers don't emerge touchingly as people the way these Argentine tango dancers do in every scene.

Our Last Tango/Un tango más, 85 mins., debuted at Toronto, also showing at Stockholm, Belgrade, Cleveland, Valenciennes, Adelaide, Yamagata, Miami, Mar del Plata, Washington, and other festivals; it has opened theatrically in half a dozen countries, will hit cinemas in France 11 May. Strand Releasing will open it in the US starting 15 April 2016.


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