The Tango Lesson (1997) Poster

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Tango and Romance
claudio_carvalho21 September 2014
The British filmmaker and screenwriter Sally (Sally Potter) is in Paris writing the story of models that are murdered by a serial-killer. When she sees a performance of the Argentinean tango dance Pablo (Pablo Verón), she asks Pablo to give tango lessons to her. She becomes obsessed by the dance, dancing with Pablo. Then she travels to Hollywood to have a meeting with producers that want to make her movie, but she gives up on her project. She decides to make a movie about tango casting Pablo in exchange of their partnership in the dance.

"The Tango Lesson" is a little movie apparently biographical of Sally Potter for fans of dance in general and particularly the tango. The romance is developed in slow pace and practically nothing happens but good dances. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "The Tango Lesson - Uma Lição de Tango" ("The Tango Lesson – A Tango Lesson")
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libeaw7 January 2003
I have read a lot of commentary on this film. Then I went to the director's website (Sally Potter) and I read her comments.

I was so into this movie. It started out slowly and I wasn't sure if I was going to stick with it. But as it went on, I was totally drawn in. I love the fact that the director chose to film it in black and white which only added to the artistry of it. I loved the fact that she as the director, and making it autobiographical, allowed us (the audience) a peek into her creative process. I also love the fact that she courageously placed herself into the hands of another artist to learn the tango. I was impressed when I read that Sally Potter had a background as a dancer so it came naturally to her to appreciate and learn the tango.

This movie impressed me on many levels because as a creative talent it takes courage to cross over into the world of another artistic discipline (how easily could a dancer cross over into the world of a film director? you see my point). Or maybe that's not a fair comparison. But to me its literally a case of walking a mile in another man's shoes. Perhaps we find it easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize the work of an artist (be it an actor, director, dancer, writer, etc.) but is it hard to come up with creative visions? Not bloody likely.

I viewed this film as a metaphor for life, relationships, artistry, etc. all of which had parallels in the film. If this sounds too deep, it is, believe me! I saw all of this and more in this film.

It also felt as if Sally Potter is going through an autobiographical and artistic midlife crisis in this film which has given me courage to put myself on the line autobiographically and artistically. There was some criticism that she should have cast someone else in the title role, but when you can't see anyone playing yourself, but yourself, how can you answer even this kind of criticism?

Bravo Sally! I appreciated the peek you gave the audience into your creative process.
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A lesson indeed
tantris041917 August 2002
This uncommon film will test your ability to perceive at different levels, on the surface it only portraits what it seems to be a weak plot and the subplot of a movie within a movie, but that are not the points of this movie in my estimation. In another level there are the metaphorical aspects of the Tango (being a dance form born in the gutter motivated by raw instincts and erotic sensuality) versus the all unending male/female quest for love and understanding.

This is not the typical follow me through the plot and visuals movie, but instead is about an atmosphere of sound and silent body language, spoken through the haunting sounds of a Bandoneon, lost in the sorrow of its own world. The poetic images and symbolisms are all there for those who can see them, but you need a sensitive and willing heart to find them. Like one of the characters says in the movie `You have to have suffered a lot to understand Tango'. Those who are still too attached to their egos will only see the surface, you have to let yourself go and then you will see.

This microcosm of the world of relationships is enveloped in ravishing music and dance, all this tinted with subtle erotic overtones. It is not about the obvious, it is about the inner beauty or not of its characters, and their quest for communicating and understanding love. I find Sally Potter to be the perfect match in every way to Pablo Verón character's ego and abilities. This is a lesson indeed to teach those who live only in the shallow surface of today's society, that real emotions run deeper than the tan of their skin or their "look". To love and to feel is hard work and not just good looks. And to understand a "Tango" you have to dance it, and here they dance it as best as I have seen it on film. And you have to ask yourself. When was the last time you truly held or were held in some one arms in a dance floor at such close distance with such passion? (And I don't mean sexuality as it is imposed commercially in everything now a days).

This is a dance of kindled spirits and of two hearts who are emphatic on their pains and joys in their path through life, which see the world so differently but are ultimately united by their passion for the Tango, and to me, here is the real lesson. As it has been said, `You really need two to Tango!' and especially when the lesson is about love.
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great art film
saba13558 November 2004
this is a wonderful film - for tango lovers as well as for people who like to ponder about life.

if you are looking for a movie with pretty girls, short skirts, and guns, you will be asleep before the first five minutes are over.

While the tango moves and general dance moves are great, what's really unique about this film is the commentary it makes about life and the power dynamics of relationships between men and women.

It also makes commentary on the film industry and what it means to be an artist in this day and age.

While it's true that Sally Potter is not a 21-year-old leggy blonde, she looks damn good at her age (I wish I had her body) and she is a very good actress. Pablito Veron also does a good job playing an arrogant ass. His dancing is awesome. Casting Pablo with a spring chicken as some have hinted, would have ruined the film all together.

Go Sally - make more of these films; I'd love to see your other commentary.
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The dance is the thing. Play on
Philby-328 November 1998
Care to dance? Sally Potter, film director ("Orlando"), did, and fell in love with the Tango and Pablo Veron, one of its authentic Argentinian exponents. Pablo is a pretty sexy guy, and a bit younger than Sally, but by the end she's leading and he's following.(I'm not sure whether they actually get to do the horizontal tango.) In between we learn with Sally the intricacies of the dance as an expression of culture as well as personal affinity. There's not much of a story (a year in the life of an original and talented art film maker)but the Paris and especially Buenos Aires settings are evocative - the latter seems frozen in the 40s, when the economic tide went out for Argentina. No, the dance is the thing. Remember Zorba? "A Greek man dances for his soul." Sally dances like a moth drawn to a candle, but wears asbestos underwear and gets an interesting movie out of it. The black and white photography is luminous and completely appropriate, and the soundtrack a treasure trove of Tangos. Recommended for those interested in "romance" ie vertical and horizontal tangos though as I said the latter is merely hinted at. Not a film for people who want a compelling story.
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An unexpected surprise!
FlossieD7 July 1999
How much is true, and how much is fiction? That is the genius behind this quiet movie. And as a viewer you yearn to know the answer to that question. A little gem by screenwriter, Sally Potter. Hats off!
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Pablo Veron es feroz!
tango123 July 1999
This film was fantastique! The dancing scenes, especially the scene where Sally dances with three men in an empty warehouse, were beautifully shot and I found myself wishing over and over that it was me in the arms of Pablo Veron...

The musical score and soundtrack are also superb; if you can find a copy of the soundtrack, do pick it up! It is the most authentic sampling of Argentinean tango that I've ever been able to find (unless you can get an original Astor Piazzolla album).
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Potter Tango make a thin story in a magic film
mrlucky-41 October 1998
Sally Potter is always a very original film fact-totum. In this film much more: Not only she write, direct, play and music the film, but she has given both herself and film to the Tango, that is the only true Star.The story is so thin, the characters are so light, the scene are cold, they seems only fills-in. Only the danced frames are full of inspiration and passion. The words are substituted with Tango (and its music), and also a classic scene like the separation at the airport became magic.
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Passionate and beautiful
redmaeven20 December 2002
There are some amazing stories about the tango, and this is definitely one of them. Lyrical account of a woman finding passion and life as she is consumed by her desire for the Tango. Amazing dance sequences and really beautiful cinematography.
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A provocative film about silence and power
jdubrow10 January 2002
As many reviewers have noted, there isn't a lot of talking in this movie, and indeed, this makes for a slow first half hour, but as the movie unfolds you realize that silence is the genius of the film. It's appropriate that writer/director/star Sally Potter has chosen tango for her subject, for, as we see in the film, tango at its best is about two dancers communing with each other, silently and sharply.

Sally and Pablo, the Argentinean dancer co-star, connect immediately as Pablo realizes Sally's seriousness and passion to the art of tango, and the two commune in various dance scenes, as well as through the one good conversation they have about believing in God. But eventually this communion breaks down as the duo consider exploring romance, and then Sally and Pablo do a whole lot of dancing--instead of talking. In the end, I think they realize that their relationship is based on a kind of mutual pain/joy: the pain of alienation that Sally experiences in her job as a director and that Pablo feels as an artist, and the joy Sally feels as a creator and Pablo as a dancer for whom dancing is like a religion. This joy is evident in a memorable scene where Pablo dances all over the kitchen while making dinner for Sally, using every kitchen utensil as a rhythmic instrument. Besides dancing, there is also a lot of gazing in this movie--mostly Sally gazing at Pablo, and on the larger scale, the viewer gazing at the two dancing. Part of Sally's fascination with tango, and indeed the way she became enraptured by it, stems from the sheer joy of watching. Sally exercises a kind of powerful intrusiveness in her gaze, and it is this that makes her truly dangerous, and more of a leader than a follower as Pablo notes. With this in mind, the subplot involving a movie Sally pitches about models being killed perhaps by their lovesick director starts to make sense--for in this case and in Sally's case, the art of looking has become a bit like murder, as the viewer subsumes the object into him/herself and thereby robs it of its autonomy. As Pablo says to Sally after their first public performance, Sally's intense gaze robs him of his freedom and blocks his artistic ability; at the same time, though, it is precisely this gaze that fuels the uncontainable joy of Pablo and Sally's two other dance teachers. In the end I think this movie asks more questions than it answers, but it certainly dwells on an unsuccessful relationship that somehow manages to fulfill at the same time as it intrudes and violates. We may like to think of tango as a dance of love and communion, but it can also be about power and control, and in this sense Sally uses tango as a metaphor for her relationship that transcends words yet can't subsist on silence.
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The longest 100 minutes of my life
clownboy9 May 2000
Strange how less than 2 hours can seem like a lifetime when sitting through such flat, uninspiring drivel. If a story is as personal as this supposedly was to Sally Potter, wouldn't you expect a little passion to show through in her performance? Her acting was completely detached and I felt no chemistry between Sally and Pablo and the tango scenes, which should have been fiery given the nature of the dance, were instead awkward and painful to watch. Obviously, revealing such a personal story on film can be daunting, and as such Sally Potter would have been wise to let a better actor take on the task rather than let her passion fall victim to her own sheepishness.
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the worst ever!
memnova20 June 2000
This is the worst movie I have ever seen, and I have seen quite a few movies. It is passed off as an art film, but it is really a piece of trash. It's one redeeming quality is the beautiful tango dancing, but that cannot make up for Sally Potter's disgustingly obvious tribute to herself. The plot of this movie is nonexistent, and I guarantee you will start laughing by the end. Especially where she starts singing. It's absolutely unreal.
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Self-indulgent and embarrassingly bad
aafine26 December 2000
Probably encouraged by admirers of her much-better "Orlando", Potter here delivers a vehicle for herself in the worst way: she writes, directs, stars, and actually co-writes the music, including a mawkish love song. The film strongly resembles a high school or college project by a teenager convinced that her own intimate loves and melodramatic obsessions are as fascinating to us as to her. But Potter's character is as unsympathetic as the object of her romantic obsession is unlikable, and the whole film is an embarrassing display of narcissism masquerading as a celebration of the tango. Perhaps if she hadn't cast herself it might have worked. She just can't act, whether playing herself or not. Pretentious, over-ambitious, dull, and silly.
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intoxicating and raw
bqk95064 April 2003
the dance. the passion of clashing characters, cultures and dancing styles. the music. the never-ending strive for dominance, for self-comprehension, for excellence in the art that speaks to your heart. the joy of love and the crying of the broken heart. the non-imposing touch of religion and intellect and determination, melted into the lives of tri-lingual strangers who allowed their pathes to cross to form an emotional bouquet of lust, atristry and cinematography called the tango lesson. elegant, sincere, and wicked. possibly, one of the best movies you'll ever let sink under your skin, along with the rain of buenos aires, lights of the Seine cruise ship, and a-typical british breath of life.

mesmerizing movie. heart-breaking soundtrack.

highly recommended if you believe that tango - or any art, for that matter - can change one's life. and a-must if it already did.
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beautiful dance numbers
alescna19 April 2002
The dancing alone, in this film is enough to make up for what's lacking in this film...pablo veron maybe a incredible tango dancer, but in this film, his attitude towards everything else can only be summoned in one word:The Male Ego.... he is insecure, and his relationship with sally is one of the most unfinished one i've ever seen, or heard about!..but as i said before..the tango makes up for everything else..makes me feel like hopping over to the nearest studio, offering tango lessons!
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An Uninvolving Ego Trip
Theo Robertson8 December 2002
Wow what a great premise for a film : Set it around a film maker with writer`s block who decides to take up tango lessons . Hey and what an even better idea cast the central role to a film maker who`s interested in tango. Gosh I wish I had that knack for genius . Yes I`m being sarcastic.

It amazes me that these type of zero potential for making money movies are made . Come on unless you`re a rabid tango fan ( I do concede they do exist judging by the comments ) or a die hard member of the Sally Potter fan club ( ? ) there`s nothing in this film that will make you rush off to the cinema to see it . Even if you`re into tango much of the film is taken up with meaningless scenes like a house getting renovated or a man in wheelchair going along a road

Coming soon THE REVIEW LESSON where a failed screenwriter from Scotland sits in front of a computer writing very sarcastic but highly entertaining reviews of films he`s seen . Gasp in shock as Theo Robertson puts the boot into the latest Hollywood blockbusters , weep in sympathy as he gets yet another rejection letter from a film company , fall in lust as he takes a bath and rubs soap over his well toned body . THE REVIEW LESSON coming soon to a cinema near you if anyone is stupid enough to fund the movie

PS Sally Potter is unrelated to Harry Potter
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Chess for the feet ... but not much for the brain
SilentType17 August 2002
`Tango is like chess for your feet' Sally Potter claimed during the publicity for this, a film that she wrote, directed, and starred in as a tango dancing director called - strangely enough - Sally. Like the screen Sally, the real Potter also learned from Pablo Veron, also her co-star. If only the film was as cogent and searching as her intelligent definititon of a fascinating dance!

As a keen tango dancer myself, I was eager to see the committed to celluloid the intricacies of a dance which is part improvisational game, part physical conversation, and as much an exercise for the mind as for the body. A lot of work goes into becoming an excellent and effortless `tanguista', and there is much more to tango than most people realise.

Turning her story into a roman a clef, does not make it experimental or postmodern, as appears to have be intended, but in fact regresses to the self-referential musicals of yesteryear such as `Singing in the Rain'. As long as there has been art, there has been art about art, and art about creative blocks. Though such an approach can create masterpieces (such as Fellini's 8 1/2), it can also create ponderous excuses for not creating original art.

Worse still, it can come off as an act of monstrous narcissism. Potter is a stunning dancer, and it is understandable that she wished to play the main role on that count, but in all other respects she is merely adequate (and her singing, in the final scene, quite inadequate). Potter berates Veron in the film for not trusting her to be lead by him; by not trusting another actor to play her part, Potter is doing exactly the same thing.

Thus the film plays out like a rather dull overheard conversation that one might idly listen to on the bus but not miss once you reached your stop. Tango is a dance in which the female must follow unquestioningly, adding little of her own input, occasionally stepping back to let the alpha male shine. The tensions that this has with a woman who is a film director and feminist, used to leading and guiding, rebelling against traditional roles of male and female, might have been fascinating. Instead, it all seems a playful act of revenge against Pablo: in film, she gets to lead, not him.

Though tantalising ideas leap out from time to time (the influence the tango had on her creativity is something touched upon but unfortunately not explored), and as always her visuals are sumptuous, I found the film a disappointment overall.
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Hey! Let's make a show! On the other hand, let's not....
delalovecraft19 March 2005
Dire. Just dire. The script is contrived, the acting painful, and the story just drags along. It is, without a doubt, a celebration of Sally Potter and little else. This wouldn't be so bad, but she's the director, writer and star of the film, and so is just self-glorification. I found myself not caring about the developing romance between the principal two characters, and the ending came not a moment too soon. It has two redeeming features. First is that a lot of the shots are really quite lovely, particularly in Paris, and look rather good in black and white. Secondly, whether you're a fan of tango or not, the music is by and large, excellent (except where Sally starts singing). Watch this film at your own risk, or if you need an unintentional laugh. I am sure it appeals to someone. Statistically, it has to.
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Self-Indulgence Gone Amok
Woocher9 February 1999
The dancing was probably the ONLY watchable thing about this film -- and even that was disappointing compared to some other films. My gawd!

To me, this is the worst kind of film -- one that assumes it's a work of art because it has all the trappings of film-as-art. Yes, it's beautifully photographed, but ultimately lacks the depth and tension of the dance around which the film supposedly surrounds itself. Tango is a tease, it's hot, it has drama, it's audacious -- precisely what this film is not.
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6 OUT OF 10
235SCOPE9 February 2000
The credits for "The Tango Lesson" make Sally Potter sound like the Barbra Streisand of independent film. Produced, written, directed, music by, vocals... and on and on. She might have catered the production, too.

That may be the problem with the film. The tango is a fiery, passionate dance and calls for an intensity that Potter's somewhat tepid British persona fails to bring to it, especially in what concerns her character and the story as a whole. She is not more than an adequate dancer and might have been better served by casting someone else in the lead role of Sally.

What saves this film somehow is the dancing by Pablo Verón and the rest of the Argentine cast, and good black and white cinematography. The concerns of the film feel like typical French fare: l'amour, l'amour, and little more than an excuse to showcase misty photography and musical numbers.
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"I will not let you go"
Houda27 June 1999
A very intriguing film. The film communicates sagaciously by employing color and its absence. The first time I saw "The Tango Lesson" I wondered why Potter abandoned the first film, the one in her head with the glorious color. But then I began to understand what the Tango was teaching her about male/female relationships, and I could clearly see that the first film merely posited woman as a victim of male aggression, whereas the Tango Lesson discovered the beauty of a woman's strength. The Tango is not a dance that relies on passivity, or the ability merely to be lead. And this, I think, is key to why this dance becomes such a sensual experience for both men and women. I was also delighted by the way Potter used the painting of Jacob wrestling the Angel to speak about the way men and women are capable of occupying the intimacy of shared space. The film as well as the painting deftly explore the employment of bodies in a movement that calls itself dance, but looks enticingly like life. The film is not about dance. It is about life, which could be dance.
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Feminist Review
torigemi36 May 2007
Sally Potter is one of the most respected names in feminist film. The Tango Lesson, while very different from any of her earlier works, seems to be a really personal, even autobiographical film. It's about a middle-aged British filmmaker named Sally Potter. More recent productions have abandoned prudery towards women's bodies and moved to "the other side" of visual pleasure. The film shows Sally's own personal involvement with Tango. Its original purpose of something fun, new, exciting and stress relief from her routine life soon became an obsession causing several conflicts.

The relevance of feminism in the film is blatantly present. A conflict scene in the film is between characters Sally and her Tango partner, teacher and love interest Pablo Veron. The back and fourth arguments are the strongest representation of a feminist point of view in a relationship. After Sally's first Tango performance with Pablo they are involved in a confrontation. Pablo's issue with Sally is that he is the leader and she was to follow which in his eyes she was not doing during the performance. The feminist thought and idea is that men lead woman. Sally replies to this by saying "you danced like a soloist". She said that no emotions were involved in the dance sequence which is extremely important in order to create a believable and interesting performance.

The fact that they were involved in a personal relationship outside of the dancing did not help the situation. Pablo's character was an alpha male who fell for a woman whose strength and power intimidated him. I noticed in the film in several scenes in his house in the bathroom, on top of the fire place, and in the dressing room, Pablo was placed in front of a mirror. His obsession with himself intrigues Sally to a near jealous streak. She is envious of his confidence. He is also in control of the language spoken between the two of them. They both speak French, Spanish and English. When they are not dancing as business partners and enter their personal relationship they speak French. Pablo unable to speak very well English prefers not to while conversing with Sally.

Sally Potter was not considered what society considers beautiful. She was an older woman who dressed moderately, did not wear makeup, and did not possess a voluptuous body. "The gaze" in television and movies is a serious issue for our society. Woman are considered spectacles used as objects of visual and physical pleasure. The director's gaze is present in the film because she represents and analyzes our visual culture in how men and woman perceive each other.
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Chickflick that even chicks won't like.
mebertha4 February 2006
Pretentious drivel. This film tries too hard to congratulate itself on being artsy. Artsy, but not very entertaining.

We get to watch as Sally Potter is one woman-does-most. Finenking the whole time about how OLD she looks. The film is autobiographical, but honestly, her life, or this part of it anyway, is just not interesting enough to form the entire content of a film.

The photography (black and white) is attractive and some of the dancing, as well. But a little goes a long way.

We had a lot of fun laughing at the (probably) unintentional comedy at the beginning. I won't spoil it for you, but there are ladies in ballgowns and a legless midget, and you get to watch some of them getting killed. These scenes are happening in the woman's imagination, as she is making up the script of her film. All of this doesn't seem to have very much to do with the rest of the film, but this is as good as it gets.
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I had too leave the cinema, it was that awful
valerie-boor30 October 2005
The Tango lesson is an absolute horror. You either have to love tango or the actors or have brought a book or an extremely interesting date, otherwise this movie is unsupportable.

My suggestion is to buy a book or go see another movie, in any case, do not rent or go watch this one, unless you have any of the above qualities. If you fail to qualify for any of these, please rest assured that your evening will most likely be spoiled like mine was some years ago. It is beyond comparison with anything I ever have seen before or since.

I never left a cinema before the end of a movie but I couldn't wait until the end of this one. You have been warned..
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tilnekplayhouse25 June 2002
I sat spellbound for the entire length of The Tango Lesson. I've become an instant fan of Sally's work. The movie takes romance and drama to a new level of intensity while drawing you in bit by bit into the story of Sally and Pablo. I couldn't imagine a better film to watch for fun. The soundtrack is original and when linked with the dancing it makes The Tango Lesson a memorable film.
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