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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