Argentina/Spain/France/Germany 1998

Reviewed by Geoffrey Macnab


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Buenos Aires. Mario Suárez, a middle-aged theatre director, is left holed up in his apartment, licking his wounds when his girlfriend (and principal dancer) Laura leaves him. Seeking distraction, he throws himself into his next project, a musical about the tango. One evening, while meeting with his backers, he is introduced to a beautiful young woman, Elena, the girlfriend of his chief investor Angelo, a shady businessman with gangster connections. Angelo asks Mario to audition Elena. He does so and is immediately captivated by her. Eventually, he takes her out of the chorus and gives her a leading role. An affair develops between them, but the possessive Angelo has her followed all the time.

The investors are unhappy with some of Mario's dance sequences. They don't like a routine which criticises the violent military repression and torture of the past. Angelo has been given a small part, which he takes very seriously. The lines between fact and fiction begin to blur: during a scene in the musical showing immigrants newly arrived in Argentina, two men fight over Elena. She is stabbed. Only slowly do we realise that her death is not for real.


In his autobiography, A Lifetime in Movies, Michael Powell writes about the idea of the composed film, in which music is the master, but is combined with emotion and acting to make a complete whole. Carlos Saura's Tango is just such a film. It relies far more heavily on colour, movement and music than on dialogue or characterisation. Like Powell's The Red Shoes (1948) or Saura's own, earlier dance movies (for instance, Blood Wedding or Carmen), it blurs the lines between rehearsal, real life and performance. And it is just about possible to trace a line between Powell's films and Tango. Late in his career, Powell worked as a consultant at Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope where cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who has shot four of Saura's films) was one of the key technicians. Storaro's lighting of some of the interiors in Tango, complete with iridescent colours and dramatic shadows, rekindles memories of equally stylised sequences he lensed for Coppola's One from the Heart.

Tango is nothing if not self-conscious. Yet another womanising, middle-aged director, exorcising his own personal demons through his work, Tango's lead character Mario Suárez seems to have been borrowed directly from Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963). Miguel Ángel Solá, who plays him has the same crumpled charm as Mastroianni in Fellini's film. There have been countless other films about film-making and also many about tango (just recently, Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson, for example). Of all dances featured in the movies, it is easily the most common. Combining arrogance and sensitivity with raw sexuality, the dance originated in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late nineteenth century, but spread across Europe and the US like rampant syphilis. Saura (a Spanish film-maker) seems determined here to take the dance back to its South American roots.

A spellbinding but perplexing piece of film-making, Tango's storyline could be written on the back of cigarette paper - a director puts on a musical, just about sums it up. There are some misjudged moments: given the lack of social and historical context, the dance sequence showing brutal military repression seems out of place. Nevertheless, Saura manages to hint at the foibles and neuroses of his characters. As in all the best backstage/backscreen musicals, he shows up the tension between the artists and the investors backing them. Somehow, he also convinces us that Suárez (the name is suspiciously close to his own) really is going through some sort of midlife crisis. His voiceover is melancholy and poetic; he is, for all his grace and humour, intensely voyeuristic. When we see Elena, his beautiful new discovery, dancing with his ex-girlfriend Laura, we're in no doubt about his mixed feelings of lust, anger and jealousy.

Saura draws a subtle contrast between the febrile atmosphere at rehearsal, where every new routine seems as much a battle as a dance, and the documentary-style sequences showing the way tango is integrated into everyday Argentinian life. We see an old maestro (Juan Carlos Copes) dancing it with incredible grace and delicacy. At school dance class, a precocious young girl holds herself back rather than be paired with anybody else other than the oafish, big-footed boy she loves. Nevertheless, for all its technical polish and virtuosity, Tango has the roughness and spontaneity of a work-in-progress. There's a sense that the film-makers, like the dancers, are working on the hoof. That's what makes their efforts so exhilarating to watch - even when they do trip up.


Luis A. Scalella
Carlos L. Mentasti
Juan C. Codazzi
Carlos Saura
Director of Photography
Vittorio Storaro
Julia Juaniz
Set Designer
Emilio Basaldúa
Music/Music Conductor/Director
Lalo Schifrin
©Argentina Sono Film SACI, Argentina/ Alma Ata International Pictures SL, Spain
Production Companies
Pandora Cinema presents an Argentina Sono Film SACI/Alma Ata International Pictures co-production in association with Terraplen Producciones/Astrolabio Producciones/Adela
Pictures/Beco Films/Hollywood Partners/Saura Films
a Juan C. Codazzi production idea
Executive Producer
Carlos Rizzuti
José Ma Calleja De La Fuente
Alejandro Bellaba
Associate Producers
Luis A. Bellaba
Carlos Rizzuti
Rainer Mockert
Production Manager
Hugo E. Lauría
Post-production Liaison
Rafael Valentin-Pastrana
Gerardo Moschioni
Assistant Directors
Carlos Saura Medrano
Javier Baliña
Romina Crespolini
Script Supervisor
Carlos Jaureguialzo
Casting Supervisors
María Inés Teyssie
Noemí Granata
Camera Operators
Julio Madurga
Fabio Zamarion
Digital Effects Supervisor
Fabrizio Storaro
Digital Effects
Cinecittà '105' Digitale
Cineon Digital Artist
Stefano Ballirano
Scanner/Lighting Recorder Operator
Marina Di Patrizi
Special Effects
Tom Cundom
Jorge Avalos
Set Decorator
Mariana Sourroille
Beatriz Di Benedetto
Make-up Artist
Mirta Blanco
Key Hairstylists
Mirta Castillo
Marcio Quinteros
Carlos J. Santos
Music Supervision/Adviser
Oscar Cardozo Ocampo
Music Recording Engineers
Osvaldo Acedo
Additional Music:
Carlos Piris
"Los inmigrantes (main title)" by Lalo Schifrin; "Quién hubiera dicho" by Luis César Amadori, R. Sciannarella, performed by Adriana Varela; "Flores del alma" by A. Lucero, M. García Ferrari, J. Larenza, performed by Viviana Vigil, Héctor Pilatti; "Quejas de bandoneón" by Juan De Dios Filiberto; "Picante" by J.I. Padula; "El Chocolo" by A. Villoldo, E.S. Discépolo, J.C. Marambio Catan; "Tango para percusión" by Lalo Schifrin, performed by Cecilia Narova, Carlos Rivarola; "La yumba" by Osvaldo Pugliese; "Caminito" by Juan De Dios Filiberto, G. Coria Peñaloza; "Tango del atardecer" by Lalo Schifrin, performed by Cecilia Narova, Mia Maestro, Carlos Rivarola; "Tango lunaire" by Lalo Schifrin, performed by Cecilia Narova, Mia Maestro; "La represión" by Lalo Schifrin, performed by Mia Maestro and the dance ensemble; "Corazón de oro" by F. Canaro, J. Fernández Blanco, performed by the dance ensemble; "Tango bárbaro" by Lalo Schifrin, performed by Cecilia Narova, Carlos Rivarola; "Recuerdo" by Osvaldo Pugliese, E. Moreno, performed by Juan Carlos Copes, Lorena Yacono; "A Juan Carlos Copes" by A. Gómez, N. Ramos, performed by Mia Maestro, Juan Carlos Copes and the dance ensemble; "Arrabal amargo" by Carlos Gardel, Alfredo Le Pera, singer: Carlos Gardel; "A fuego lento" by Horacio A. Salgán, performed by El Nuevo Quinteto Real; "Nostalgias" by J.C. Cobian, Enrique Cadícamo, performed by Mia Maestro, musicians: Orlando Marconi, Juanjo DomÍnguez; "Se dice de mí" by Francisco Canaro, Ivo Pelay, performed by singers: Tita Merello, Roxana Fontan; "Zorro gris" by R. Tuegols, F. García Giménez, performed by Lucas Galera, Sabrina Morales; "Calambre" by Astor Piazzola, performed by Julio Bocca with Carlos Rivarola and the dance ensemble; "Va pensiero" from the opera "Nabucco" by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by The Deutsche Oper Orchestra, conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli; "La cumparsita" by Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, E. Maroni (h), P. Contursi, performed by Cecilia Narova, Juan Carlos Copes
Juan Carlos Copes
Carlos Rivarola
Ana Maria Stekelman
Jorge Stavropulos
Production Sound Manager
Edgardo Rapetti
Re-recording Mixer
Alfonso Pino
Supervising Sound Editor
Jorge Stavropulos
Sound Editor
Carlos Faruolo
Luis Castro
Eduardo Fernández
José Ma De Leiva
Eduardo Lopez
Film Extract
Mercado de abastos (1954)
Miguel Ángel Solá
Mario Suárez
Cecilia Narova
Laura Fuentes
Mia Maestro
Elena Flores
Juan Carlos Copes
Carlos Nebbia
Carlos Rivarola
Ernesto Landi
Sandra Ballesteros
María Elman
Oscar Cardozo Ocampo
Daniel Stein
Martín Seefeld
Andrés Castro
Antonio Soares Junior
bodyguard 1
Ricardo Díaz Mourelle
Waldo Norman
Ariel Casas
Carlos Thiel
Doctor Ramírez
Johana Copes
dance teacher
Nora Zinsky
woman investor 2
Mabel Pessen
woman investor 2
Fernando Llosa
man investor 1
Julio Marticorena
man investor 2
Enrique Pinti
Sergio Lieman
Julio Bocca
Juan Luis Galiardo
Angelo Larroca
Viviana Vigil
Héctor Pilatti
Roxana Fontan
young female singer
master of ceremonies
Néstor Marconi
Adolfo Gómez
bandoneón players
Juanjo Domínguez
guitar player
Norberto Ramos
Dante Montero
bodyguard 2
Ángela Ciccone
Palmira Fuentes
Fernando Monetti
Homero Fuentes
Ángel Coria
assistant choreographer
Sofía Codrovich
Ana Segovia
Mariano Moisello
Boy Ramos
Elvira Onetto
school teacher
Vito Melino
Larroca's father
El Nuevo Quinteto Real
Horacio A. Salgán
Ubaldo Aquiles De Lio
Oscar Giunta
Antonio Agri
Néstor Marconi
Verónica Alvarenga
Marcelo Álvarez
Adrián Aragón
Sebastián Arce
Cynthia Ávila
Valencia Batiuk
Jorge Bihurriet
Erika Boaglio
Mariano Bolfarini
Milena Braun
Gustavo Brizuela
Silvia Bron
Sebastián Codega
Ángel Coria
César Cohelo
Cristina Cortez
Leonardo Cuello
Lucas Galera
Esther Garaballi
Ángeles González
Ubara Kazumi
Carlos Kerr
Margarita Klurfan
Oscar Mandagaran
Facundo Mercado
Hugo Mingo
Gustavo Miori
Dante Montero
Sabrina Morales
Víctor Nieva
Efrain Ordóñez
Paola Parrondo
Hugo Patyn
Sonia Peralta
Ariel Pérez
Silvina Pérez
Marcia Recalde
Giuliana Rosetti
Sergio Salcedo
Verónica Salmerón
Antonio Soares Junior
Silvia Toscano
Patricio Touseda
Jesús Velázquez
Lorena Yacono
Metrodome Distribution Ltd
10,390 feet
115 minutes 27 seconds
Dolby digital
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011