Narrative Tango Films

by jposburn | created - 05 Jul 2018 | updated - 2 weeks ago | Public

This is a list of fictional films in which tango is a major theme or persistent presence. I am aware that it is incomplete: viewing and adding titles is an ongoing project. It goes from the ones I saw earliest (as best as I can recall) to the most recently. In "detail view," you can read my comments. Some I haven't watched yet are at the bottom. See also my lists of Tango Documentaries (e.g., "Our Last Tango) and Tango Scenes (non-tango films with a tango scene or element, e.g., "Scent of a Woman"). What film goes on what list is, needless to say, debatable.

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1. Tango Tangle (1914)

Not Rated | 12 min | Short, Comedy

Out of costume, Charlie is a clean-shaven dandy who, somewhat drunk, visits a dance hall. There the wardrobe girl has three rival admirers: the band leader, one of the musicians, and now Charlie.

Director: Mack Sennett | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Ford Sterling, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Chester Conklin

Votes: 1,048

Chaplin at a dance hall - the prologue, and perhaps a little more, is recognizably tango. But tango serves as a thematic proxy for social dance and human relations in general, especially if sex, romantic rivalry, or both are involved.

2. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

Passed | 150 min | Drama, Romance, War

An extended family split up in France and Germany find themselves on opposing sides of the battlefield during World War I.

Director: Rex Ingram | Stars: Rudolph Valentino, Alice Terry, Pomeroy Cannon, Josef Swickard

Votes: 3,000 | Gross: $9.20M

Whatever mis-perceptions it spawned, Valentino's gaucho tango routine is an iconic scene that charted the course of tango on film outside of Argentina. A very good professional dancer, he used the scene to establish his character at the start of one of the earliest and most epic of anti-war films.

3. Last Tango in Paris (1972)

NC-17 | 129 min | Drama, Romance

77 Metascore

A young Parisian woman meets a middle-aged American businessman who demands their clandestine relationship be based only on sex.

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci | Stars: Marlon Brando, Maria Schneider, Maria Michi, Giovanna Galletti

Votes: 47,140 | Gross: $36.14M

Tango as an emblem of decadence, and an unforgettable soundtrack. A masterpiece if watched in ignorance, but it is hard to do so now (if at all) with a knowledge of how Maria Schneider was treated by Bertolucci in the film's most notorious scene.

4. Tango (1998)

PG-13 | 115 min | Drama, Musical

Mario Suarez is a forty-something tango artist, whose wife Laura has left him. He leaves his apartment and starts preparing a film about tango.

Director: Carlos Saura | Stars: Miguel Ángel Solá, Cecilia Narova, Mía Maestro, Juan Carlos Copes

Votes: 2,714 | Gross: $1.69M

Carlos Saura at his indispensable best.

5. Assassination Tango (2002)

R | 114 min | Crime, Drama, Romance

51 Metascore

An aging hitman gets a contract to kill a General in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But when his mark becomes unavailable, he becomes involved in Argentinian tango culture.

Director: Robert Duvall | Stars: Robert Duvall, Luciana Pedraza, Rubén Blades, Kathy Baker

Votes: 2,841 | Gross: $0.97M

Tango as a metaphor for the machinations of a hitman, but it has a pull of its own. The dance that accompanies the closing credits is unforgettable.

6. Aniceto (2008)

82 min | Drama, Musical, Romance

Aniceto is a lonely man who lives with his rooster in a little town in Mendoza. He falls in love with the sweet Francisca, but things will get tense when he also begins a relationship with the enigmatic and irresistible Lucia.

Director: Leonardo Favio | Stars: Hernán Piquín, Natalia Pelayo, Alejandra Baldoni

Votes: 211

A tango ballet based on an Argentine folk tragedy, somewhat in the vein of Carlos Saura's flamenco films.

7. The Tango Lesson (1997)

PG | 100 min | Drama, Music, Romance

65 Metascore

A scriptwriter comes to Paris to work on her film. There she takes up tango lessons and forms a relationship with the dancer.

Director: Sally Potter | Stars: Sally Potter, Pablo Verón, Morgane Maugran, Géraldine Maillet

Votes: 2,138 | Gross: $1.30M

The dance film is a popular genre based on the notion that learning a dance will change your life. Potter takes the formula and makes it sophisticated and personal.

8. City in Heat (2006)

100 min | Comedy, Romance

A group of friends in their 30's meet at a bar in Buenos Aires everyday. They used to hang here as students, laughing at the world, and now they still dream of changing the world from the ... See full summary »

Director: Hernán Gaffet | Stars: Betiana Blum, Julia Calvo, Daniel Casablanca, Daniel de Vita

Votes: 239

A portrait of singles of various ages in Buenos Aires in the first decade of the new century. The cast includes the tango singer Dolores Sola, as well as her band La Chicana, and tango music, imagery and dance color the story throughout, not least in emotional communion of the final scene.

9. Tango Bar (1935)

Approved | 62 min | Drama, Musical

Ricardo Fuentes (Carlos Gardel) leaves Buenos Aires after loosing in horse races to go to Barcelona, where he plans to open a tango bar, a new concept of tango dance show and dance saloon. ... See full summary »

Director: John Reinhardt | Stars: Carlos Gardel, Rosita Moreno, Enrique de Rosas, Tito Lusiardo

Votes: 80

"Tango Bar" begins with the classic montage of Gardel singing "Por una cabeza" with flashbacks to the horse race on which he lost it all. Even better follows, especially his bitter rendition of "Arrabal amargo," in this yarn of love and robbery that starts on the high seas and concludes in Barcelona.

10. Tangos, the Exile of Gardel (1985)

Not Rated | 119 min | Drama, Musical

Some Argentinians, exiled in Paris, decide to put on a tango-ballet, dedicated to Carlos Gardel, a legendary Argentinian tango star.

Director: Fernando E. Solanas | Stars: Marie Laforêt, Philippe Léotard, Miguel Ángel Solá, Marina Vlady

Votes: 531

Tango, cunning, and exile - deeply Argentine with a Parisian spryness and a surreal edge. Some of the gender depictions are problematic from today's vantage, but it's a crucial film, touching greatness.

11. El tango en Broadway (1934)

85 min | Drama, Musical

A light-hearted comedy of errors including some beautiful songs by inimitable Carlos Gardel style.

Director: Louis J. Gasnier | Stars: Carlos Gardel, Trini Ramos, Blanca Vischer, Vicente Padula

Votes: 33

There's a lot of New York in Gardel's performance - fast-talking, two-timing, quick-on-the-uptake - and it's compelling. Gardel's movies are unlike most Argentine tango films in that not all of the singing is circumstantially naturalistic, even if set in a showbiz mileau. Show tunes are mixed up with emotionally motivated bursts into song to the sound of invisible orchestras. It's stylistically awkward, but part of the charm.

12. ¡Tango! (1933)

80 min | Musical, Romance

This is the story of a love triangle between a tango singer, a dishonest man and a poor woman. She runs away with the bad man, knowing that she actually is with the wrong one. Rejected, the... See full summary »

Director: Luis Moglia Barth | Stars: Libertad Lamarque, Pepe Arias, Tita Merello, Alberto Gómez

Votes: 37

The first Argentine sound film, an early and innovative classic.

The quintessential Tita Merella film, with a social conscience and a touch of noir. Although the tango in it is not pervasive, it is set entirely in the tango universe and on classic tango themes. The title song is a classic.

14. Cuesta abajo (1934)

Approved | 74 min | Drama, Musical

Carlos Acosta (Carlos Gardel), tied to a flirty wife and in love with another girl, watches fate work out a solution that allows him to return to his real love after trips to Paris and New York City.

Director: Louis J. Gasnier | Stars: Carlos Gardel, Mona Maris, Vicente Padula, Anita Campillo

Votes: 52

A very good film, filled with iconic moments and drenched in the spirit of tango. The scene culminating in the title song is one such, so is another in which Gardel leads up to "Mi Buenos Aires quierido" with a masterful récitatif.

15. El día que me quieras (1935)

Approved | 82 min | Drama, Musical

Carlos Argüelles is the son of a wealthy man whose only interests in life are business and making money. While trying to succeed in show business he falls in love with a dancer and they elope to marry. But success is not easy to obtain.

Director: John Reinhardt | Stars: Carlos Gardel, Rosita Moreno, Tito Lusiardo, Manuel Peluffo

Votes: 114

The wonderfully gushy moonlit scene in which which the title song is sung - and elsewhere the young Piazzolla as an extra. There's a touch of tragedy in this one, along with redemption, and a remarkable double performance by Rita Moreno, whose talents are too easily overshadowed by the Gardel legend.

Young males finding their way. Tango plays a part.

17. Not Here to Be Loved (2005)

93 min | Drama, Romance

The (love) life of a man fed up with his work and life routine changes when he enlists into a tango dancing course.

Director: Stéphane Brizé | Stars: Patrick Chesnais, Anne Consigny, Georges Wilson, Lionel Abelanski

Votes: 1,498

The conceit of the dance film genre applies no less to tango: dance draws the lonely from their shells and changes lives. There's a superb sequence featuring the legendary tango couple Javier Rodríguez and Géraldine Rojas.

18. Rashevski's Tango (2003)

Not Rated | 90 min | Drama, Romance

45 Metascore

Adolphe 'Dolfo' Rashevski travels to Israel with grandson Ric, but his brother, orthodox rabbi Samuel 'Shmouel, refuses to come attend their fellow Auschwitz survivor sister Rosa's funeral.... See full summary »

Director: Sam Garbarski | Stars: Natan Cogan, Ishai Golan, Mosko Alkalai, Rudi Rosenberg

Votes: 431

The special symbolic power of tango and history.

19. Mi último tango (1960)

122 min | Drama

A young woman working as a maid for a big time stage performer is mistaken for the star in Buenos Aires and becomes a great success in the land of the tango.

Director: Luis César Amadori | Stars: Sara Montiel, Maurice Ronet, Isabel Garcés, Laura Granados

Votes: 111

Sara Montiel isn't convincing in the Argentine milieu, but she's a Spanish film star of the highest order.

20. Naked Tango (1990)

R | 90 min | Crime, Drama, Romance

When a young European woman assumes a false identity in 1920s Argentina, she gets more than she bargained for.

Director: Leonard Schrader | Stars: Vincent D'Onofrio, Mathilda May, Fernando Rey, Tony Payne

Votes: 580

Tawdry.

Hugo del Carril as a tango singer cagey about his past who shows up at a Mexican music hall looking for work.

22. Tanghi argentini (2006)

14 min | Short, Comedy

An office clerk with a hankering to tango enlists the support of a workplace colleague as he prepares for a date. It's Christmas time and the concept of giving assumes fairy tale proportions in this beguiling modern story.

Director: Guy Thys | Stars: Dirk van Dijck, Koen van Impe, Hilde Norga, Mathias Sercu

Votes: 667

A comic fable of tango at Christmastime. Fun.

The ghost of Ventarrón, tauro of the tango song by that name, haunts contemporary Buenos Aires.

24. Bar, El Chino (2003)

100 min | Drama, Music, Comedy

Martina is a young editor that works for a television network. She is decided to make a documentary on the legendery Bar El Chino, a place where tango, friendship and love are highly valued... See full summary »

Director: Daniel Burak | Stars: Juan Pablo Ballinou, Nuria Burak, Roberto Buzzone, Pasta Dioguardi

Votes: 114

Ode to a porteño institution, a glimpse of life and career in the Argentine capital.

25. Tangos Are for Two (1997)

PG-13 | 93 min | Drama, Music, Romance

A woman's voice says she was wife to Renzo Franchi and Carlos Gardel (1890-1935), Argentina's great tango singer. People say she's crazy. Her story unfolds. Buenos Aires, 1933: Juana Romero... See full summary »

Director: Jaime Chávarri | Stars: Darío Grandinetti, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Juan Echanove, Ulises Dumont

Votes: 286

An intriguing double personality conceit.

26. Fermín glorias del tango (2014)

Not Rated | 117 min | Drama

A patient expresses himself using the lyrics and titles of tango songs as a result of a post traumatic stress disorder discovered by a psychiatrist.

Directors: Hernán Findling, Oliver Kolker | Stars: Héctor Alterio, Esteban Bortnik, Carlos Copello, Antonella Costa

Votes: 116

An inventive search for personal and diagnostic meaning in the dance and the lyrics of tango.

27. Mango Tango (2009)

98 min | Comedy, Thriller

A New York City dance teacher's search for the ideal mate leads her down a challenging and downright dangerous path.

Director: Marianne Hettinger | Stars: Marianne Hettinger, Michael E. Knight, John A. Gallagher, Brian Vincent

Votes: 45

A New York tango teacher's search for love.

Colombian tug-of-war over the remains of Gardel, based on a novel of the same name.

The related genres of cuplé and tango are dramatically connected in the story of a mother and daughter, each singers, separated by war and death, both wonderfully played by Virginia Luque.

Fact and fiction mingle in a tale of two generations, informing as history and engaging as drama.

31. El astro del tango (1940)

91 min | Musical

The romance between a singer and a young society and its impact on the circle of friends.

Director: Luis Bayón Herrera | Stars: Hugo del Carril, Amanda Ledesma, Berta Aliana, Nélida Bilbao

Votes: 5

Tango star mobbed by paparazzi and screaming fans, in love with a socialite above his class.

32. Christmas Tango (2011)

102 min | Drama, Romance

At the time of the Greek junta, in an isolated army camp, a lieutenant forces a soldier to teach him the tango in order to ask the wife of his Colonel to dance with him.

Director: Nikos Koutelidakis | Stars: Giannis Bezos, Yannis Stankoglou, Antinoos Albanis, Vicky Papadopoulou

Votes: 2,776

Visually atmospheric and well-acted, but with a directorial attitude that implies greater emotional depth than it delivers.

33. The South (1988)

R | 127 min | Drama

The movie starts while Floreal, the main protagonist, was being released from the prison when the military coup ended in 1983. He is estranged to his former life because of his last few ... See full summary »

Director: Fernando E. Solanas | Stars: Susú Pecoraro, Miguel Ángel Solá, Philippe Léotard, Lito Cruz

Votes: 755

Tango is the least of the reasons to watch this post-dictatorial masterpiece, but it rises like dust from the ruins of a culture in rebirth. With Roberto Goyeneche and a Piazzolla soundtrack.

34. Tango Bar (1987)

PG | 90 min | Drama, Musical, Romance

A fled Tango show owner returns to Buenos Aires to join his partners after the oppressive government of Argentina has dissolved.

Director: Marcos Zurinaga | Stars: Raul Julia, Valeria Lynch, Rubén Juárez, Nélida Rodríguez

Votes: 148

There's a loose story of an exiled bandoneonista returning to Buenos Aires, but this is mostly a veiled introduction to tango history and a showcase for some good dancing and interesting film clips.

A remarkable film in many ways. It is based on a sainete, a light theatrical genre that was a vehicle for the premiere of numerous tangos, and gives a glimpse into how the songs worked theatrically. There's also a capsule history of tango in show form that starts with its African and working class origins and moves up the cultural escalator to upper class respectability.

The Spanish title sounds less silly: "La doctora quiera tangos." The doctor's acquaintance with a tango musician stirs up his personal life - and hers. There's less tango than one would expect, but in addition to being very entertaining, the film provides a glimpse into differing class and generational attitudes towards tango and tangueros. With the tango composer Mariano Mores in a role similar to himself.

37. Tango libre (2012)

98 min | Drama

A prison guard is attracted to a woman at his weekly tango class. They meet again when she visits her husband in the prison where he works and he is drawn into her complicated romantic life. Meanwhile the prisoners are learning the tango.

Director: Frédéric Fonteyne | Stars: François Damiens, Sergi López, Jan Hammenecker, Anne Paulicevich

Votes: 1,011

A very good film with an excellent cast, including the important Argentine dancer Chicho Frumboli.

38. The Tango Singer (2009)

110 min | Drama, Musical

A woman tries to get back on her feet after suffering from a devastating break-up.

Director: Diego Martínez Vignatti | Stars: Eugenia Ramírez, Bruno Todeschini, Dora Baret, Patrick Descamps

Votes: 56

A beautiful, psychologically subtle work of visual, musical, and dramatic art.

39. Mi noche triste (1952)

92 min | Drama, Musical

A gentleman named Pascual is very outgoing; enjoys music, singing, and writing poetry. He has a somewhat overbearing wife, and soon falls in love with a beautiful singer, Lita, that has ... See full summary »

Director: Lucas Demare | Stars: Graciliano Batista, Cayetano Biondo, Roberto Blanco, Max Citelli

Votes: 5

A very well-made film that imagines the circumstances under which Pascual Contursi might have written the lyrics to the landmark tango of the title. With Anibal Troilo on the bandoneón.

A delightful adaptation of a stage play that portrays the strange goings on at a Buenos Aires radio station between its star tango singer and hyperkinetic director, played by the great tango songwriter Enrique Santos Discépolo.

41. Valentina's Tango (2006)

R | 98 min | Thriller

A dark comedy/drama of a woman's decent into madness by love. Family and loved ones try to save her but but are sucked into the madness with her. Greek tragedy mixed with farce tells this tale of passionate love and lust.

Director: Rogelio Lobato | Stars: Guillermina Quiroga, Jordi Caballero, Dianna Miranda, George Perez

Votes: 84

A mildly diverting yarn of sex, murder, neurosis, tango, and hallucination, best for the impeccable dancing of Guillermina Quiroga and an original tango score.

42. Yesterday's Boys Didn't Use Hair Fixers (1937)

90 min | Comedy, Drama, Family

A man lets his mistress down (Mireya) and marries a high society woman. He will not be happy. Over the years, he will meet Mireya, who is now old and ill and is mistreated by his own son.

Director: Manuel Romero | Stars: Florencio Parravicini, Mecha Ortiz, Santiago Arrieta, Irma Córdoba

Votes: 51

From the good old days of tango, when the dance was working class and disreputable, to its bourgeois transformation, a doomed love affair across the class divide, wonderfully plotted and acted. The early milonga dance scenes are a special treat.

43. La voz de mi ciudad (1953)

110 min | Drama

Roberto Morán is a provincial newcomer to Buenos Aires, where he works as a factory worker, who plays the bandoneon "by ear" and wants to learn music in a conservatory run by an old frustrated musician, Don Matías.

Director: Tulio Demicheli | Stars: Mariano Mores, Diana Maggi, Santiago Gómez Cou, Ricardo Galache

Votes: 9

A story rich in dichotomy: high art versus the popular, the allure of Europe and the U.S. versus a distinct Argentine identity, wealth versus work, urban versus rural, played out in a musical fable that features Mariano Mores and cameos by Canaro and D'Arienzo. There is also a disturbing scene in blackface that, while musically strong and culturally illuminating, suggests that a known practice of white men's clubs in the 19th century carnaval is not so historically distant as one would have hoped.

44. Melodía de arrabal (1933)

Passed | 94 min | Musical, Romance

Roberto Ramirez (Carlos Gardel) is a gambler who meets Alina (Imperio Argentina) and takes the decision to change his life.

Director: Louis J. Gasnier | Stars: Imperio Argentina, Carlos Gardel, Vicente Padula, Jaime Devesa

Votes: 35

Cardplay, gunplay, aliases, love, and tango: delightful Gardel and with Imperio Argentina too.

45. La casa es seria (1933)

Musical

A creole singer tries to date with dancer, who tries to avoid him.

Director: Lucien Jaquelux | Stars: Carlos Gardel, Imperio Argentina, Lolita Benavente, Josita Hernán

Votes: 13

The visuals of this romantic musical short are missing, but the soundtrack survives and is fun to listen to. I've seen a version with bits of other films pieced together to simulate some of the scenes.

46. New Port (1936)

82 min | Musical, Drama