American actor Robert Duvall's 2003 homage to the dance is a suspenseful drama of political intrigue, Assassination Tango. It's about a semi-retired hit-man, played by Duvall, who is hired to kill an aging general of the 1980s "Dirty War" that the Argentine government waged against its citizens. When his assignment is delayed after his arrival in Buenos Aires, he bides his time prowling the city's milonga ballrooms, watching and learning about tango. It's a perfect film for wanna-be tango dancers like Duvall's character. The film also stars his wife, Argentine dancer, Luciana Pedraza, and Ruben Blades.
For romantic daydreamers, there's the1997 film, The Tango Lesson, by British film director-screenwriter-dancer, Sally Potter. A story within a story, the film stars Potter as a screenwriter who is forced out of her leaky London apartment during repairs. She travels to Paris and Buenos Aires where she takes tango lessons and ends up in the bed of her handsome teacher played by renowned tango dancer, Pablo Veron.
For those who appreciate foreign-language films, there's Spanish director Carlos Saura's masterful 1998 film, Tango about a tango dancer making a film about tango. As in some of his other dance films, Saura shows how art imitates life in this. Fifty years after the death of tango's most famous singer, Carlos Gardel, Argentine director, Fernando Solanas made a popular award-winning 1985 film, Tangos: el exilio de Gardel (Tangos, the Exile of Gardel). It was set in Paris where the filmmaker was in exile during the "Dirty War." He called the film a tanguedia, "part tango, part tragedy and part comedy," using it to bring attention to his country's shameful period. In the film, the protagonists play the great composer/bandoneonist, Astor Piazzolla's music that had been banned by the junta to which Solanas added new lyrics. The 2003 film, Doble o Nada (Tangos are for Two) is about an aspiring Buenos Aires singer with an uncanny resemblance to Gardel.
Film history buffs may want to seek out something from the early days of Argentine cinema in which tango plays a leading role. There's Jose Augustin Ferreyra's 1917 silent film, El Tango de la Muerte ("The Tango of Death"), about working class life in the barrios of Buenos Aires. His 1922 La Muchacha de Arrabal (The Girl of the Slums,), used live accompaniment for the first time in Argentina film, played by the famed Robert Firpo Orchestra.
The 1933 talkie, Tango, by Argentine director Luis Moglia Barth, starred Tita Merello, and was one of the first feature films with sound to come out of Latin America. Edgardo Donato y sus muchachos, a famous tango orchestra, performed in the film. The 1937 film, Nobleza Gaucha, was shot partly in Armenonville, a famous dance hall in Buenos Aires. La Vida de Carlos Gardel is a 1939 bio-pic by Argentine director Alberto de Zavalia.
Memorable tango scenes
A tango scene shows up in a lot of movies about a wide range of topics. Here are just a few:
In the 1992 film, Scent of a Woman, a blind Al Pacino does an emotional tango from memory with Gabrielle Anwar to a famous hit song by Carlos Gardel, Por una Cabeza. It's from Gardel's 1935 film, Tango Bar.
A provocative female-female tango was danced in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1970 film, The Conformist, as well as in the 1992 French film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, Indochine, between Catherine Deneuve and Linh Dan.
In the 1993 comedy, Addams Family Values, Anjelica Houston and Raul Julia burn up the dance floor with a sizzling tango that also causes champagne corks to pop.
In the opening scene of the 1994 film, True Lies, Arnold Schwarzenegger sweeps Tia Carrere onto the dance floor for a passionate tango. What the governor lacks in lithe, he makes up for in machismo.
Tango helped to make Rudolph Valentino a matinee idol. He tangos in the 1921 film, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and again in the 1922 film, Blood and Sand, plus Kurt Russell's 1977 bio-pic, Valentino, played by Rudolf Nureyev.
Filmmakers from Roman Polanski to Terry Gilliam have used the music of Piazzolla in their films. The website, www.piazzolla.org contains a list of every such film.