Tango was born in the brothels of Buenos Aires a century ago, and its elegantly slinky sexiness expresses the full range of erotic passion. Those turbulent and sometimes dark emotions suffuse the fascinating documentary Our Last Tango, which tells the volatile history of Maria Nieves and Juan Carlos Copes, tango’s most famous couple. Their 50-year dance career saw them falling in and out of love, getting married and divorced, and, years later, finally breaking apart into unforgiving silence. The arc of that remarkable story is explored via contemporary interviews, thrilling archival footage, and handsomely choreographed scenes where three pairs of young dancers perform recreated highlights from the lives of Maria and Juan.
The two were just teenagers when they first met in the 1940s at one of Buenos Aires’ many milongas, those often shabby halls where tango aficionados went for social dancing. Their union was electric, and they soon became a glamorous couple.
“I knew I had met my Stradivarius,” the still-dapper Juan says of Maria. For her part, Maria surrendered utterly to the smoldering machismo of the driven and ambitious Juan, who wanted to take tango out of the halls and put it on stage. She followed him to New York in the 1950s where his irresistibly flashy “show tango” conquered Broadway and gradually achieved global fame for both the dance and the music that drives it. But those on-stage triumphs ultimately came at a terrible cost.
Now in her early 80s, henna-haired Maria is lively, proud, mischievous, and charismatic. She recalls her childhood poverty, and how “dancing was the joy of the poor” (as a girl she danced at home with a broom for a partner when tango music spilled from the radio). Her candour extends to discussing Juan’s often-caddish behaviour as he found himself surrounded by flocks of half-naked chorus girls. Eventually he renounced their Las Vegas marriage and hooked up with a younger woman and started a family.
“No tear shed by a woman for a man is worth it,” Maria declares fiercely, even as her claim to feel no jealousy rings hollow. In the latter years of their career she continued to perform with Juan, willing to accept personal humiliation because her need to dance tango at the highest level was transcendent.
“I danced with hate on stage,” she admits, a hostage to all of the many emotions inspired by the dance that ruled her life.
Our Last Tango ΗΗΗ 1/2
Stars Maria Nieves, Juan Carlos Copes
Directed by German Kral
(Running from May 8-10 at UVic’s Cinecenta)
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