After a friend heard that Laurel and I were taking tango lessons, she suggested that we watch “Assassination Tango,” a 2003 movie starring, written, and directed by Robert Duvall.
The tango scenes were marvelous, so far removed from the shuffling around that I’ve been able to master in a few lessons that to call what I’m doing “tango” is a stretch. Still, I could recognize a few moves that are (minimally) in my repertoire, such as the ocho.
I learned from another review that in real life Duvall studies tango with Luciana Pedraza, who in the movie plays Manuela, an Argentine tango dancer who gives lessons to John J. (Duvall)—a New Yorker who is in the country to kill a wealthy general.
Googling deeper into the movie, I uncovered another connection between fact and cinema fiction: Pedraza, 31 years old when the film was made, is (or was) the girlfriend of 72 year old Duvall.
My reaction is, “Way to go Robert!” However, I just told my wife what I’d learned about their May-December relationship and she said, “That’s disgusting, a forty year age difference!” Actually, it’s forty-one years, but I didn’t want to tell Laurel this and make her even more disgusted.
For some reason I don’t find anything disturbing about a much younger woman being attracted to a grizzled old guy. (Could the reason be that I’m a guy who is getting increasingly grizzled and old? It’s a theory.)
“Assassination Tango” has its faults, as the Ebert review points out. I enjoyed the movie, though, and not just for the amazing tango dancing. The dialogue sounds genuine, like how people actually talk. Now that I know Duvall and Pedraza have a thing going in real life, I can see why their conversations in the movie seem so unforced.
There’s one scene in a coffee house that appeared especially natural. In an interview Duvall said that it was minimally rehearsed and, like the rest of the movie, apparently partly improvised. Here John J. and Luciana are getting to know each other after he has watched her dance a few times. They chit-chat for a bit, then John J. gets more serious:
John J.: “If I was a younger man, living here…I’m just theorizing…Do you think I’d have a chance?”
Manuela: “A chance for what?”
John J.: “With you.”
Manuela: “Well, you have it now.”
John J.: [looking surprised] “Wha…What?”
Manuela: “Welcome to Argentina, my friend.” [both laugh]
John J.: “O.K.” [changes subject, starts talking about coffee]
This transcript doesn’t do justice to the subtleties of the scene. When I watched the movie last night I thought, “That girl is a natural actress. It doesn’t seem like she’s acting.” Well, she isn’t a professional actress, but she sure can act.
“Welcome to Argentina, my friend.” A great line.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if life in general, and the United States in particular, was a lot more like Manuela’s Argentina? I’m not talking about a world where attractive young women are open to the advances of much older men, but a world where almost anything is possible—where rigid societal rules and mores don’t limit people’s natural inclinations.
This country isn’t that “Argentina” where life is embraced exuberantly, all sides of it. In a scene where John J. meets Manuela’s family, her mother and father talk about the tango philosophy. “It’s about life,” one says. “And death,” adds the other. Everything. Nothing excluded.
Gays. Straights. Believers. Atheists. Blacks. Whites. Native-born. Foreign-born. Young. Old. Women. Men. White-collar. Blue-collar. Progressive. Conservative. All real. All part of life. And death.
I’m getting tired of politicians, or anybody, who focuses on what divides us rather than what unites us. Or who puts restrictions on what is allowed rather than expanding the range of personal choices.
I want to live in “Argentina.” Not the country in South America, but the borderless land of laughter, dance, and free expression Manuela welcomed John J. too. That place isn’t far away for any of us. We just need to let our inner Argentinas out.