The Tango Lesson

Jan 29, 1997 at 12:00 am

What is the approach to resolving one's personal destiny, even in spite of nature's calling? How does one follow when her life's desire has been to lead?

Such is the discourse set up by The Tango Lesson, Sally Potter's new film about film, and its lead protagonist, filmmaker Sally Potter. This meta-flick finds Sally, a hardworking artist, toiling at that test of writerly resolve, the screenplay, when she is excited by the sight of a man and woman dancing the tango. The couple's kicking legs stir in Sally an urge to escape the cerebral tedium of screenwriting, as well as her current project, a script titled Rage. She wishes to learn the tango.

The Tango Lesson is very much Sally Potter's hard-core autobiographical statement on her own psyche, and like so many recent feminist texts in film, it's the rage. Numerous narrative images dance across the frames, posing sharp questions of identity, destiny, logic and reason. The movie's beautifully vivid black-and-white photography breaks into color stock to depict the unfolding of Sally's screenplay. In it, a legless man watches the murders of three fashion models during a photo shoot.

At the same time, Sally's ordered life gradually dissolves into chaos. When her relationship with her teacher, world-renowned dancer Pablo Veron, sours, their sinuous dancing motions together start to take on deeper meaning. Veron's training is wiry and loaded with passion for tradition. As a teacher, he is fiery and provocative. Sally gets her wish in becoming adept at the tango, but her life experience prevents a total identification with it. "FOLLOW!" Veron commands her backstage at a show. "Just follow!"

The film is smart enough to not take either Veron's or Potter's side in the conflict, but instead indulges in the dance's metaphorical, aesthetic values at length. Veron is strong enough a male lead to carry us through to a resolution, even if Potter does marginalize him into something of an entertainment toward the film's end. To its credit, The Tango Lesson interestingly and effectively negotiates order and chaos.

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