It's time to tango in Paris once more. This new excursion comes courtesy of arthouse filmmaker Sally Potter (Orlando),
but her footwork has little of the grace and profundity that characterized Bertolucci's Last Tango.
Potter stumbles fearlessly through this semi-fictional/autobiographical story about a filmmaker named Sally (played by Potter), who falls in love with the tango while experiencing frustration during the writing of a screenplay called Rage
(a script that Potter, the filmmaker, put aside to shoot The Tango Lesson).
Her tango tutor/love interest, Pablo, is played by the renowned Argentinean tango master Pablo Veron. Entranced by the implicit subtext of the dance form in which the sexual dynamic is formalized into a highly stylized choreography, both Sally the fictional character and Potter the actual filmmaker find the tango lessons a soothing respite from the cerebral desk & duff work of scriptwriting. As The Tango Lesson's
plot develops, it turns out that Pablo is just as interested in breaking into the movies as Sally is in becoming a tango tootsie. So the two strike a bargain: Pablo will teach Sally to become a top-notch tango dancer and Sally will let him star in her next film. As the characters' emotional lives become entwined with their professional lives, the tango increasingly becomes a central metaphor for complications of life. How can a person simultaneously be a director on a film project and a follower in a dance number? Can the collaborative art of filmmaking accommodate the proscribed steps of the tango? Can a director who prides herself on her artistic freedom bend to the demands of an unyielding dance pattern? Can Potter find a way to make the audience share her obsessions? To the last question, the answer is no. The Tango Lesson
is ponderously scripted and stiffly acted, and though the narrative causes the characters to skip continents and languages (the story bounces from Paris to Buenos Aires to London and back) little of the passion that drives this story is conveyed. You never really sense what these two individuals see in each other apart from their professional arrangement. The film's camerawork, however, is a joy to watch as Robbie Muller's black-and-white footage matches the dance choreography step for step. The whole movie has a rich, embossed sheen, a duotone contrast to the opulent full-color glimpses of the aborted movie Rage,
in which swan-like female models in haute-couture evening gowns are chased by a legless designer with murder in his heart. I'm not sure that I'd prefer that Rage
were made in place of The Tango Lesson.
But with Rage
I'm guessing that at least I'd know when the jig was up.