Tango Libre – Half a Film

Tango Libre was shown as part of the London Film Festival, and I had selected it based on the convenience of its timing and venue as well as a quick read of the Festival programme.  By the time I’d arrived at the right place at approximately the right time, I’d forgotten both the name of the film and what I’d read about it.

The thing I did notice in the opening credits was that one of the producer companies was called ‘Tax Shelter Films’, which is remarkable as usually calling a company that would be against rule number 1 of the tax planners’ little book of rules ; they would normally go to some lengths to give both the substance and appearance to companies of not being ‘shelters’.  Having said that the location for the making of European films at the moment is largely dictated by the tax incentives being made available, which is why, for example, so many non French directors are making films in France…..

Consequently I was a little bit puzzled by the start of the film, and didn’t really understand why the majority of the actors were speaking either French with non-native accents, a little Spanish, or what I assumed was Dutch.  I’d even started to wonder if I was watching a short film before the main feature.  It was only towards the end of the movie, when I noticed that one of the characters was driving a Belgian registered car, that the penny dropped that the we were in Belgium or Luxembourg.

All of this is just to illustrate that I watched it without any preconceived notions at all. And watching it made me speculate that making a successful film may be more difficult than it might otherwise seem, and that maintaining a credible narrative relies on more than simply a good beginning.

I thought this film had an excellent set up: a  prison guard, living alone, but for a single gold fish, spends evenings at a tango class, where he is instructed to dance with the newcomer.  The next time he sees this woman is when she comes to visit one of the prisoners in his charge.  On her subsequent visit, she brings her son, and they visit two of the inmates; her husband, and his best friend and cell mate  with whom it appears the woman also has a relationship.  Through observing shared glances, and sensing the guard’s fascination and discomfort, the prisoners work out that the guard has been dancing with the woman.

Angry at first, the husband approaches an Argentinian hard man boss type in the recreation area and asks if he will teach him the tango.  The Argentinian declines at first, but then agrees, and soon everyone in the cell block is learning, so they will be ready to dance with a woman on their release.

Up to this point I was intrigued by the story, by the idea of three men being fascinated by one woman, and trying to relate to her through the medium of the tango.  The scenes of men in prison uniform and big boots, performing  the duel of the dance, made me wish that I could dance too.

It was the sort of set up that made me wonder how the emotionally complex, and unusual story would end; it wasn’t at all predictable.  Unfortunately, it seemed that the situation was too complex and tricky to resolve for the writer and director too, as the narrative quickly plunged way off course into unbelievable melodrama and farce which offered no resolution to the questions posed at the beginning.

This was half of a really interesting film, and I might have been better leaving in the middle wondering how it would end, rather than having the disappointment of seeing it all the way through.

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  1. You sure do hammer that nail in with panache!


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