The Tango Lesson

on November 14, 1997 by Kevin Courrier
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   In "The Tango Lesson," Sally Potter ("Orlando") returns to her roots as a professional dancer (which she was before she started making short dance films in 1972). Instead of celebrating movement or exploring the cultural roots of the tango itself, she turns the story into a self-serving examination of the issue of control in romantic relationships.
   Potter plays a film director working on a script that seems to be about fashion models brought together by a legless designer who involves them in a photo shoot--and then the models start getting assassinated by snipers. While Hollywood producers are trying to decide what to make of this rather questionable idea for a movie, Potter takes tango lessons from a passionate hunk (Pablo Veron) who has just lost his dance partner. While they do the tango, they also do the dance of love. The idea Potter seems to be putting across is that, in the tango, the female follows, whereas Potter's instincts as a director are that she should lead. By the end, she leads all right; she even starts to sing, which should get audiences hoofing right out of the theatre.
   As in "Orlando," Potter combines the instincts of a theoretical feminist with a Harlequin romantic, which means that as a dramatist she's both abstract and sentimental. Put another way, in "The Tango Lesson" and "Orlando," she wants audiences to be swooning with her petulant heroines and their sexual fantasies while at the same time learning important political lessons about gender and control. "The Tango Lesson" certainly looks better than "Orlando," with Robby Muller's black-and-white cinematography giving the film at the very least a graphic vitality. (The fashion show scenes, though, are in garish color.) But "The Tango Lesson" in the end is not about the spontaneity or the erotic power of dance. It's just a vanity show for Potter's notion that, if a movie comes forth from your own loins, it must be Art.    Starring Sally Potter, Pablo Veron and Heathcote Williams. Directed and written by Sally Potter. Produced by Christopher Sheppard. A Sony Classics release. Drama. French- and Spanish-langauge; English subtitles. Rated PG for brief language and some violent images. Running time: 101 min. Screened at Toronto.
Tags: Pablo Veron, Heathcote Williams, Sally Potter, Christopher Sheppard, A Sony Classics release, Drama, romantic, dramatist, heroines, fantasies, dance, love
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