Running Time: 85 Minutes
Director: German Kral
Cast: María Nieves Rego, Juan Carlos Copes, Ayelén Álvarez Miño & Juan Malizia
The life and love story of Argentina’s famous tango dancers María Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes, who met as teenagers and danced together for nearly fifty years until a painful separation tore them apart.
Opening with a rather lovely, languid tracking shot of downtown Buenos Aires, Our Last Tango initially seems like a curio of a documentary about two of Argentina’s most famous tango dancers: A curio because the documentary incorporates an increasingly meta narrative whereby reenactments are used to tell the story of María Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes. Reenactments can be tricky in a documentary because it usually begs the question, why not just turn it into a straight up dramatic adaptation without the frills or documentary tropes of talking heads?
It rarely works (and Errol Morris’ superlative The Thin Blue Line may be one of the few exceptions) but the twist to this formula is that we see the filming of these reenactments with the actors themselves then doing the interviewing of both María Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes and asking them probing personal questions about their lives together. Both leads are portrayed at two different stages in their lives and by different actors and these same actors end up discussing their characters with each other further lending a strange self reflexiveness to proceedings.
The narrative becomes even more meta when we see the real María Nieves Rego walk onto a soundstage mock-up of her childhood home replete with toys that she would have had. It’s an emotional moment both for her and the audience despite the artificiality of the construct.
The film charts the rise and eventual disintegration of the personal and professional relationship of María Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes: Both of whom were largely responsible for the revival of tango in the 70s in Latin America, Europe and the USA. Even for those who aren’t a fan of dancing or the strict sensuality of the tango (it should be said that the dance sequences are beautifully shot by Jo Heim and Félix Monti), there’s a lot more going on here with the meta nature of the narrative doubling as a meditation on the different perspectives one can take on falling in love. Not just love of a person but love for an artform.
Despite featuring both Nieves Rego and Copes, the film really belongs to Nieves Rego and how devotion to one man blinded her to the fact that the man in question was a serial philanderer and seemingly, going by the present day interviews, devoid of any sense of regret or guilt over his actions. In fact both have rather regressive views on the role of men and women in relationships that modern audiences might find stereotypically quaint.
Our Last Tango is a bitter pill of a film in many respects because falling in love with the wrong person can be a quietly devastating event that can echo throughout the rest of your life. And in Nieves Rego’s case, it does. At one point in the film, she declares that “Love doesn’t exist. For me it’s all a lie”. And the morbidly interesting aspect of this scene is that she says this to the actress playing her in her early 40s but the look on the actress’ face tells another story: She sees the inherent sadness of a person who gave all her love to someone, only to have it thrown back in her face.
Archival footage of Nieves Rego and Copes is used too and it’s vibrant and youthful but juxtaposed to the older woman who utters the words, “No tear, shed by a woman for a man, is worth it”; it’s incredibly sad to see someone so hardened by unrequited love and betrayal. The creator and showrunner of True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto, once remarked that:
“As human beings, we are nothing but the stories we live and die by – so you’d better be careful what stories you tell yourself.”
Falling in love is a story we tell ourselves and perhaps it is understandable when we get lost in that story but it’s not without its consequences as Our Last Tango so brutally lays bare: In a scene set in María’s actual kitchen, she explains that she has no regrets about her life yet as she says this, she is framed alone sitting at a table drinking tea. It’s a hushed moment of caution and yet it isn’t a depressing film as both of our subjects share an almost numinous love for dancing and the tango and it’s hard not to get swept up in the passion they both share.
Our Last Tango is an interesting yet flawed film, it never quite soars the way you hope it could and the meta nature of the narrative does work on a thematic level but it’s missing the cohesion and focus of a more straight forward documentary.
What is most heartening is that, despite all her heartbreak and sense of what could have been, María Nieves Rego never stops to feel sorry for herself and she knows who she is after all these years and there’s a victory in that. But the film is really a cautionary tale about falling in love with the wrong person and not being able (or willing) to recognise that fact until it’s too late.
Our Last Tango is strange self reflexive documentary that is almost brilliant in what it’s trying to do but it falls shy of greatness but there is much to admire in this film that examines love in various forms and from various perspectives.