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The Tango Lesson

Posted by keith1942 on April 11, 2014

Tango 2

The second feature from Sally Potter featured in the Bradford International Film Festival’s retrospective of her work. There are twelve tango lessons in the film, though the lessons are not merely about the Argentinean dance. In addition the main character Sally, played by Potter herself, is working on a screenplay which is a sort of murder mystery involving three models, a designer and his film crew. Whilst the film is predominately shot in black and white these sequences are shot in brighter colour. This also applies to a set of sequences where Potter is pitching the screenplay to a group of unidentified Hollywood producers. She eventually gives up the attempt when faced with the contradiction between their commercial values and her own auteuristic preoccupations,

The focus of the film is the lessons with the Argentinean tango dancer, Pablo Veron (also playing himself). These take place in Paris and in Buenos Ares. The tango is, of course, an extremely seductive dance. And the typical milieu, a slightly formal setting, usually a bar, adds to this sense. Potter trained as a dancer and eh accompanies her skilled a professional partner with real panache. The lessons are part of a bargain – she will learn the tango, he will enjoy an on-screen performance. There is also another professional performance in the film when Potter accompanies him in a professional, theatrical display.

Apparently some film critics were less than kind about Potter’s performance on the films initial release. I thought that she performs her role as a tyro dancer extremely well. In the theatrical display, whilst she performs the intricate steps skilfully, there is also a sense of stiffness and less than complete confidence. The lack of confidence reflects the changing relationship between Sally and Pablo. Theirs is an ambiguous relationship she enjoys the tango dancing but it is presented as demanding that the woman ‘do nothing’. This power relationship is subverted when Sally as film director takes the helm.

The tango m music and dances are great. The black and white cinematography, especially, is finely shot by Robby Müller. And the changing locales provide a varied and intriguing series of settings. Like Potter’s best films the exploration of gender relations and power struggles is acute and mainly subversive.

The final resolution seems rather stretched out. I have this sense with several of Potter’s film. There is the sense that she is exploring the possibilities while finishing the construction of the film. In the end the one that she settles on seems the less radical of the possibilities.

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