In the 1960s and 70s, Carlos Saura rose to prominence as one of Spain's master
filmmakers. Toiling under the repressive Franco regime, he managed to subvert the
censors by employing dream and fantasy sequences that created an hypnotic style. He also
found a muse in Geraldine Chaplin and their relationship—both onscreen and off—
informed much of his work. Movies like <I>The Garden of Delights</I> (1970) and
especially <I>Cria!</I> (1976) were gems and showed him to be the master craftsman he
is. By the 80s, however, Saura embarked on a series of musical films. Beginning with
<I>Blood Wedding</I> (1981), and including <I>Carmen</I> (1983) and <I>El Amor
Brujo</I> (1986), he fashioned an unofficial trilogy drawn from classical ballet. In the
90s, Saura continued to explore dance as a symbol for creativity, first in <I>Flamenco</I>
(1995) and now in <I>Tango</I>.<p>
Argentinean producer Juan C. Cadazzi approached Saura with the idea about creating a
movie about the tango, which was also the name of one of the earliest films made in that
country (in 1933). The writer-director was challenged by the idea and crafted a story of a
film-within-a-film. His <I>Tango</I> begins with shots of Buenos Aires and then cuts to
a story board for a film that we later learn is to focus on the titular dance. The man is a
famous director, Mario Suarez (Miguel Angel Sola), and we soon learn he is trying to
recover from a broken heart; his wife has left him for another. Eventually, of course,
Mario falls in love with Elena (the delectable Mia Maestro), a nubile young dancer who
just happens to be the mistress of a powerful gangster. The stage is set for a rivalry for the
affections of this young woman. That love and sex are at the heart of this film is
appropriate as they also form the basis for the tango, which has its origins in the
relationships between prostitutes and their pimps. Tango is often a duel, either between
the sexes or between the same sex over an object of desire. Fully cognizant of the many
variations to the dance, Saura and his choreographers (Juan Carlos Copes, Ana Maria
Steckelman and Carlos Rivarola) employ various permutations to astonishing effect.<p>
Structurally, though, <I>Tango</I> is weak. The central story on which Saura hangs the
film is flimsy, at best. The characters tend toward two-dimensionality although the actors
Strive to imbue them with humanity. They exist more as figures on which to hand the
scenario. And it is in the technical aspects that this film soars. The dancing is superb and
functions as outlets for the characters' emotions. (Unlike most video directors Saura
shoots a great deal of the sequences in long shots allowing the audience to see the line of
the dancers.) Watching the creation of art is fascinating and the rehearsals and behind the
scenes meetings propel <I>Tango</I>. One particularly marvelous sequence shows Mario
meeting with the designers who describe how a particular number will look. Saura allows
his camera to linger on the scale models. Later, when the tableaux is recreated with actual
actors, it is breathtaking.<p>
By choosing to focus on the impetus to create, which Saura has said interests him more
than the actual product, <I>Tango</I> is filled with several stunning set pieces. The
director is abetted by composer Lalo Schifrin, who mixes tradition tango themes with
hauntingly beautiful  new compositions, and master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro,
who bathes the film in appropriate hues. At the beginning of the film, the color palette is
filled with blues--signifying the coldness of Mario's life. As his feelings for Elena grow
in intensity, Storaro introduces passionate reds and oranges. Several of the rehearsal
numbers are visually incredible: groups of men pairing off as if rival gangs were gearing
up for a fight; two entwining dancers silhouetted--the erotic tension palpable in their
every move; Elena and Mario's wife Laura (Cecilia Narova) dressed in 1920s fashion; the
final crowd scenes of poor immigrants that recall stage productions as diverse as <I>Les
Miserables</I> and <I>Ragtime</I>. Not overlooking politics, Saura also includes a
slightly controversial number that recalls recent events in Argentina--the forced
disappearance of those opposed to the ruling regime. That particular number is both
visually jolting and disturbing, yet it retains a grace and beauty of form. Much
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.