Juan Carlos Copes and María Nieves Rego, now in their eighties, met as teenagers and spent decades as a celebrated tango couple. They tell their stories in Our Last Tango, a documentary that both celebrates and challenges the passions of dance, and viewers will sense that the history of these compelling figures entails more frustration and complexity than can be examined in a short running time.
Juan is dapper and still tries to dance every day, though he seems to have a caddish side, while María, with her short hair and a cigarette in a long holder, radiates hard-won sass. Thankfully, the film does not rely on other talking heads, leaving the exposition to the charismatic protagonists: María evocatively describes growing up in poverty, pretending a bottle was a doll as a child and finding refuge in dance as a young teenager. Describing her frustration with Juan’s betrayals, she says, “You have to use men and throw them away,” a striking statement delivered without apology. María is forthright — she has lived and learned, and we can learn from her.
Less effective is the film’s frequent use of scenes of young dancers re-creating Juan and María’s routines and key moments in their lives. While these vignettes are lovingly, carefully performed and have an aesthetic appeal, they feel a bit too much like the sepia-tinged photos of attractive couples included in picture frames.
The little footage of Juan and María shown in the film is far more compelling, and when they talk about seeing Singin’ in the Rain multiple times and feeling inspired by it, the dance re-enactment feels unnecessary.
Our Last Tango
Written and directed by German Kral
Opens April 15, Angelika Film Center