For almost five decades, Maria Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes were the greatest tango dancing duo in the history of their native Argentina. Known throughout the world for their trailblazing and audacious dancing style, the couple went on to wow crowds from New York to Tokyo, before finally going their separate ways, under what can only be described as painful circumstances. Now both in their 80s, Maria and Juan Carlos, who first met as teenagers, have finally been persuaded by director German Kral to speak frankly about their relationship on and off stage, in his deeply touching and highly innovative documentary Our Last Tango.
Chartering the pair’s rocky relationship in a series of interviews intercut with some beautifully executed dance re-enactments, Kral brings the couple together on-screen for the first time since they parted, and recounts their story with a huge amount of tenderness and attention to detail. As Juan Carlos and Maria speak candidly about their respective careers to a group of young dancers and choreographers from Buenos Aires, the dancers transform the couple’s most moving and dramatic episodes into beautifully intricate choreographies.
The film also traces the history of the hugely popular dance and the influence the couple had on its development and eventual worldwide domination. By taking tango out of the clubs and onto the international stage, Juan Carlos and Maria not only managed to revolutionise the dance from a personal standpoint, but also made it into something that became symbolic of Argentina itself.
Staring three pairs of dancers who each play the famous couple at separate periods of their lives, the film cleverly uses elegant routines to express the hardship, felt mostly by María Nieves Rego, a woman who gave the best years of her life to a profession she still loves, and to a man who in the end gave her nothing in return. As Maria speaks fondly of her love and admiration for Juan Carlos, we slowly realise that despite his numerous indiscretions while they were a couple, she never really stopped loving him. Reminiscing about his youthful beauty and elegance when they first met, Maria tries, but ultimately fails to hide the heartache she felt at his betrayal.
Kral and his team of highly skilled technicians and choreographers bring the past decades back to life, and with them all the memories of a woman wronged by the man she loved the most. While the film, one suspects, set out to bring the duo together for one last time, it is ultimately Maria we feel more sympathy towards. With her resilience and grace despite everything she went through, she manages to inadvertently expose the level of misogyny she faced from her dance partner and society as a whole.
Whilst Our Last Tango uses plenty of artifice to tell a truly moving story, it is ultimately the honest interviews which genuinely get under the skin. Maria’s story is the story of every woman who has ever followed her dream – it is a universal story of love, passion and empowerment, and a story which is likely to touch its audiences in more ways than they could have ever imagined.
Our Last Tango is released on September 22nd.