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The Tango Lesson  

When a person directs oneself on screen, they open themselves up to attack. They are attacked for that deadly sin of vanity, of believing only they can portray their own creation.

Director Sally Potter was attacked in this way for starring herself in The Tango Lesson. It doesn`t help that in the movie she plays, guess what, a film director.....named Sally! The attack seemed especially harsh, since it is a woman who dares to do such a thing. For some reason, women seem to get the most blame for what society perceives as transgressions.

In the film, Sally is trying to write a script for a very cheesy looking film thriller. She cannot write it to her satisfaction, so decides to take a break. Her break involves watching a performance of a great tango dancer. Her sudden admiration for this art motivates her to get lessons from this master, whose name is Pablo. Eventually, after a number of events, the two become more than teacher and student, but lovers, who more often than not show us, the viewer, their love through the power of dance. The romance seems made in heaven, but then reality kicks in, in the form of their stubbornness and strong egos.

The film says a lot of insightful statements about relationships. The most important thing has to do with control - both partners are very independent and self-absorbed, and neither are fully willing to succumb to the other. There are two key scenes which demonstrate this. One is when they perform the tango at a concert hall. The audience obviously loves it, and a viewer unversed in tango would think the two dancers superb. But Pablo is furious with the result. He feels she is too uptight, unwilling to give up control, for the man always leads in the dance. The mirror image of this happens when Sally prepares for the tango film. Naturally, to make the film more authentic, Sally wants to use some autobiographical details. One detail includes a moment of vulnerability for Pablo. Sally wants to be able to recreate that scene, but Pablo does not want to be pushed around, and in a sense, is behaving as uptight as Sally was during the dance. The question is actually a very serious one to be answered, because the film wants us to face the possiblity that it is very difficult for two equally strong people to have a romantic relationship. Each person wants a partner who will be there for them, and understand them, and follow their path. But what we have here are two people who both are extremely focussed and assertive, and who demand that they be treated with utmost respect, not subservient.

There is a lot of tango in this film, probably one dance every few minutes. It helps that the film is shot in black and white, creating an even better look for these dances. It also showcases the fact that Potter can indeed tango, and keep up with a man who is a genuine master. It also shows that some of these dances are, on screen, like PG equivalents of sex scenes, with all that twisting of legs and torsos. (Dance With Me, with Vanessa Williams, is an even more steamy example, and it`s also only a PG movie with dancing!)

The lesson learned is that these two people must accept each other`s needs and demands if there is any hope of continuing their love. Basically, they must dance in harmony, so to speak. Along the way to this lesson, we are treated to fine dancing, great cinematography, and good romance.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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