In Carlos Saura’s film Tango (1998), the chief character is making a musical about making a musical. The film is shot (by Vittorio Storaro, cameraman on The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now and many other movies) as a sort of designer’s dream, full of bright, shifting colours, ubiquitous mirrors, many set-pieces. It’s hard to tell whether any particular portion of the film is the private fantasy of the director, a slice of the daily life he is living, a section of the work imagined as finished, or an actual practice session on the set. The musical seems to be a movie, but it might be a stage extravaganza. Cameras keep hovering in the air, and there is mention of a screenplay; but then there are backers at run-throughs, and there is a grand dress rehearsal. The plot circles and repeats itself like a dance, and there is a strong implication that the sentimental lives of the characters have long been prefigured in old tangos, those acrid songs of twisted passion and recurring failure. Even Argentina’s Dirty War and its history of immigration are caught up in this music. The film has a ‘repression tango’ with danced torture and disposal of bodies; an ‘immigrants’ ballet’, where after a bit of Verdi’s Nabucco everyone starts to tango too.
LRB 16 June 2011 | PDF Download