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Assassination Tango (2002)
Filmmaker(s): Robert Duvall

John J. is a seasoned hit man sent on a job to Argentina. When the General he's sent to kill delays his return to the country, John passes the time with Manuela, a beautiful dancer who becomes his teacher and guide into Argentina's sensual world of the tango.

Assassination Tango (2002)

Love Dances Hesitatingly

What things men do for the women they love!

I’ve been collecting films where men direct their lovers. Its an odd phenomenon. Some are good pictures, some not. Taken together they are one of the richest film experiences I have. Just the notion of making art with, for, and exploiting your lover seems special to me.

A 72 year old actor. Someone who always teeters on the edge of being a great actor but always hesitates. A 30 year old woman who has charmed him, with whom he lives and loves and dances.

She moves dance into his life and he filmmaking into hers. The very idea warms me.

With Coppola’s loyal backing, Duvall weaves two threads. One is a fairly complex hitman caper. The other is an almost affair, or perhaps an affair with a dancer.

The problem is that Duvall is a horrible writer and director. It underscores my belief that actors, even ones who have been around a lot, just don’t understand the cinematic long form, the dream that arcs for hours.

I have one film in mind, a similar circumstance: Orson Welles and mistress in his “F is for Fake.” It may be his most complex and cinematically advanced project, among those finished. It puts his girl in the middle in such a way that we all are in awe of her, her movement, the way she seduces the action and folds.

There’s another that is a sort of touchstone of this business of passion imagined, of urges sustained. “In the Mood for Love” wasn’t made for a lover so far as I know, but it must the best film of the state Duvall reaches for here.

The immediate problem is simple. If you want to make a film where dance envelopes every element of the thing, the urges, the movements, the twists and combat. The drama. The grace. If you want to do that you have to make it cinematic. Pure and simple.

“Tango, no me dejes nunca,” now THAT was cinematic. This isn’t and it rankles that Duvall doesn’t acknowledge that it isn’t. Though his love is dear, and we all root for him — well, me at least — its a tattered valentine. I KNOW he could do better. She must be worth it, right?

So in the end, you feel you are watching a sort of tragedy, a sort of pale valentine of a perhaps uncommitted liaison. And is there anything sadder?

Posted in 2006

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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