Glories of Tango (2014)

110 minutes
Argentina
Spanish with English subtitles
Directed by Hernán Findling, Oliver Kolker. With Héctor Alterio, Esteban Bortnik, Carlos Copello, Antonella Costa.
IMDb link

Tightly wound and intimate as tango dancing itself, the film Glories of Tango by Oliver Kolker and Hernán Findling is a movie that the viewer knows prior to conclusion will require and invite a second watching. The overall acting is impeccable. The dancing is mesmerizing and sensuous, but the story glides by as quickly as the backward kick that the woman executes so dangerously between her partner’s legs.

The central character Fermin Turdera is an old man (played luminously by Hector Alterio) living in an insane asylum in Buenos Aries. His utterances make no sense to those around him until a young psychiatrist named Ezequiel Kaufman (Gaston Pauls) is employed. The film flips back and forth between Fermin’s younger (1945) and older life (circa 1990s). Solving the source of Fermin’s mental brokenness is the through line of this film, but additionally, we are treated to a contemporary love story involving the geeky Dr. Kaufman and the scintillating Eva Turdera (Antonella Costa), an expert tango dancer and granddaughter of Fermin. She understands that everything Fermin says is related to tango.

Every detail of the film is carefully planted for maximum effect beginning with the opening scene where Fermin is vigorously having carnal relations with a woman named Mabel (Dalma Maradona). Later in the film, we understand Mabel has become his wife due to her becoming pregnant with his son. In fact, it is his son’s death (after the 1976 coup d’état), along with other incidents resulting from Fermin’s negligence and ill will, that sends him over the edge.

No one, except granddaughter Eva, comes to visit Fermin. However, his best friend from his youth, a legendary tango dancer nicknamed Centipedes (Emilio Disi), sets up his shoe shine stand outside the mental hospital where Fermin can see him. Dr. Kaufman interacts early in the film with Centipedes who tells the dowdy doctor that his shoes are crying.

In his youth, Fermin (the young Fermin is played by Luciano Cáceres) was an intellectual reading Marx and Engels, but Centipedes (played by co-director Oliver Kolker), a man with tango charisma, won the attention of the most attractive young woman. Just as Fermin moves in on Zulma (Silvina Valz), Centipedes ducks under Fermin’s arms and sweeps Zulma onto the dance floor. Later, we understand that Fermin betrays Centipedes, a man always on the take and down on his luck.

One confusing aspect to this film is the parallel father son story from Ezequiel Kaufman. Like Fermin’s son Evaristo, Ezequiel was ignored by his father, who drank, gambled, and danced tango. On the other hand, Ezequiel is the son of a Jewish mother and the bond between the two, while fraught with typical nudging about getting married, is deeply loving. Several comic scenes erupt between them.

Not a minute is wasted in this beautifully flowing and achingly human film with an engaging and moving sound track by Lisandro Adrover, where 90% of the music is original. In Spanish with English subtitles. Since 2014, this film has been making its way through screenings at film festivals. While this reviewer viewed Glories of Tango in the FilmFest DC online, find the film now on Amazon Prime.

Karren LaLonde Alenier, Washington, DC

Karren Alenier is a swing-dancing poet whose opera, Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On, with composer William Banfield and New York City’s Encompass New Opera Theatre artistic director Nancy Rhodes premiered in New York City in June 2005. She writes a monthly column for scene4.com entitled "The Steiny Road to Operadom." Read about her forthcoming book on opera—The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas at alenier.blogspot.com.