were like the Vernon and Irene Castle of tango, except at the height of their
success they were divorced and barely on speaking terms. María Nieves and Juan
Carlos Copes were the toast of Broadway as the lead dancers of the original
1985 production of Tango Argentino and
the 1999 revival, but their backstage relationship was rather frosty. Yet,
despite the betrayals and resentments, they always stayed true to the dance.
German Kral invites the legendary dance partners to take stock of their lives
and careers in Our Last Tango (trailer here), executive produced by Pina filmmaker Wim Wenders, which opens
this Friday in New York.
and Nieves first met in the sort of tango milonga that used to be at the center
of social life for Argentina’s working class. Ironically, tastes were changing
just as the couple’s skills reached their peak. However, it turned out to be a
blessing in disguise. Sort of using jazz as a template, Copes moved tango from
the dance floor to the stage, presenting it as national art form. It worked
well enough to get Tango Argentino mounted
on Broadway, but by that time he was married to someone younger than Nieves.
dancers reflect on their time together, but Nieves clearly gets more screen
time (reportedly, Copes temporarily withdrew from the project at his current
wife’s insistence, so he has nobody to blame except himself). Nevertheless,
Kral keeps the film reasonably even-handed. Clearly, their relationship is too
complicated to be reduced down to a few soundbites. Indeed, the extraordinarily
talented and photogenic dancers who play Nieves and Copes in dramatic
re-enactments (Ayelen Álvarez Miño being a particular
standout) do their best to understand and forgive the failings of their
characters in conversations that give Last
Tango a slightly meta, deeply humane vibe.
a fair amount of archival footage of Copes and Nieves as an established act,
but some of their most important dances happened before that. Kral integrates
those recreations quite smoothly, giving the film an expressionistic feeling.
Years of their lives are essentially papered over, but the essence is vividly
captured on screen. Eventually, it all builds towards a reunion between the two
dancers, but it is almost an anti-climax following the eighty-year-old Copes’ show-stopping
Last Tango is loaded with wonderfully evocative dance numbers, lensed by
cinematographers Jo Heim and Félix
Monti with the romantic style tango demands. Arguably, it is one of the most
visually lush music-related docs since Calle
54, ranking alongside the dance films of Carlo Saura, even with the emotionally
charged interview segments. It is an exquisitely sophisticated, deeply
satisfying film that deserves to become a word-of-mouth hit. Very highly
recommended, Our Last Tango opens
this Friday (4/15) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.
Labels: Dance on film, Documentary, Tango, Wim Wenders