This DVD has elicited a controversial response, and no wonder. It is virtually a rehash of the same director’s CARMEN, using Tango instead of Flamenco to tell the story. It is shot in the same dreamy style that Saura used for FADO, FLAMENCO and EL AMOR BRUJO. It has its merits. It looks sharply good, with well-etched shadows and silhouettes to imitate the real dancers during the action sequences. It allows for extraordinarily unrealistic colors that infuse the whole product with a surrealistic poetry that is appealing, but vapid, so that you love it the first time; like it the second; and dislike it the third time of seeing. The superficiality ultimately gets to you. We are operating here on several levels, and it is often unclear at which one. There are actors who dance, actors who don’t, and dancers who do not act. There are at least three plots: that of the dancers; that of the non-dancers; and what goes on in the mind of the central character ---- the director “Mario”. The movements of these seemingly independent tectonic plates of narrative cause remarkable volcanic eruptions of drama from time to time, and they are the best moments in the film. They include dramatic scenes of slaughtered females being thrown into a communal grave by their uniformed killers; illegal immigrants rising up from the edge of the sea; and the final Carmenesque knifing of the central female character/dancer by a sinister assassin.
For me, the music and dancing are the least impressive. I have had the good fortune to visit Buenos Aires on several occasions, where I became fanatically devoted to this art form that offers such intricate opportunities to dancers, singers, and instrumentalists alike ---- individually and in ensemble. What we saw and heard in Saura’s film was a pale shadow of Carlos Gardel and El Viejo Almacen, the last-named being the pinnacle of my Tango experience on the two visits I made. Further, whereas in CARMEN and BLOOD WEDDING, Flamenco provided a working alternative to Bizet’s music and Lorca’s poetry as a form of narration, Tango doesn’t fulfill this role nearly as well. Strangely, in his eponymous film FLAMENCO, he outlines the historical background of its culture in a series of set pieces photographed in much the same way as in this film, but unrelated to any plot or the interaction of any characters: just a series of vignettes such as Paco Pena provides in his exquisite programs of the genre, or much as you would see in a classical Tango show. Really, it would have been much smarter of Saura to have filmed TANGO like FLAMENCO, and to have used the conventions of the Flamenco art form to tell the story of TANGO. But this would simply have ended up as CARMEN in Technicolor.