Carlos Saura has a long term and well earned reputation as a maker of beautiful films, particularly films built around dance. Blood Wedding, Carmen, and Flamenco (all available on video – see link below) are particularly worthy of note. Saura now gives us a wonderful two hours of Tango, using his well honed technique of layering levels of illusion and levels of reality.
Centering the story on a filmmaker, Mario Suarez, making a film about tango, Saura immediately creates the vehicle for multiple perspectives. What starts as a rehearsal scene in the movie being filmed, becomes a full fledged production number to us, in the audience. The drama within the dance scene relates back to Suarez ‘ own story. (Saura/Suarez – thesimilarity is surely no coincidence.) Throughout, the structure of following Suarez’ creative process allows Saura to give us a broad range of reflections on love and loss and aging, on Argentina and its history and politics, and, of course, on tango itself, the unique expression of (and gift to us from) multicultural Argentina.
If the plotting and the relationships are a tad contrived, even schematic, it matters not a whit. Tango, as a film about the dance and its meanings, is a setup as, for example, a good deal of opera is a setup – the plot is a conventionalized vehicle for setting up the arias (here dances) in which a range of ideas and emotions are expressed.
At one level, of course, the tango as dance is focused on love – longing, seduction, passion, jealousy, violence, domination and submission. With Mario pining after his ex (a dancer, of course, who is in a new relationship) and then finding a new love (another dancer, of course, who happens to be the lover of a mafia boss), we have setups for enough passionate tango to fill the pampas.
Both the music and the dancing throughout the film are mesmerizing. Saura has also reached a new level of stunning production techniques, using mirrors and montages to weave in and out of, and to superimpose, illusion and reality, even as his hero, the plot, and the themes themselves do the same. Gorgeous, intense colors – magenta, green, blood orange – are used as backgrounds for many of the dance numbers. Silhouettes, reflections, video projections on screens – all play with our perceptions. Yet all this technical brilliance does not for a moment feel forced or inappropriate; the total meshes seamlessly into a flowing, pulsating dance of its own.
The two lead women, Cecilia Narova and Mia Maestro, both stunningly beautiful, have quite perfected that unique carriage and line of the body as it twists and weaves and glides though the complicated steps and syncopated rhythms of the tango. All the dancers are superb and it is dancing that is at the heart, and measures the success, of this film.