German Kral’s documentary “Our Last Tango” is a combination of things, all fascinating: a portrait of María Nieves and Juan Carlos Copes, a world-renowned pair of tango dancers, and their professional partnership of almost 50 years; a stylized staging of their romantic and artistic history, performed by young dancers; and a celebration of the tango itself, which continues to bewitch with its writhing, gently jagged grace and torrid suggestiveness.
Ms. Nieves and Mr. Copes offer sometimes divergent accounts of their collaboration, which began when both were teenagers. Mr. Copes is understated, masculine and faintly defensive. (Ms. Nieves, he says, was “my Stradivarius.”) Ms. Nieves is candid, expressive, life-loving even when acknowledging pain — the two had many breakups and reconciliations before divorcing — and resignation. Cigarette holder in hand, she is the picture’s principal power source, its brightest light.
Both acknowledge their singular stage charisma and dexterity, immortalized in the Broadway hit “Tango Argentino.” (Period footage of their specialty, duets on a tabletop, still inspires astonishment.) But that does not diminish the contributions of the young performers here, who listen rapturously to Ms. Nieves’s descriptions of a vanished Buenos Aires and her embrace of an artistic calling. Their dances, shot in warm, high-contrast hues, evoke period flavor and the coursing blood of youth.
Today, the bond between Ms. Nieves and Mr. Copes, now in their 80s, appears imbued with a kind of rueful respect. But the love they and the youthful performers have for the tango endures. As will the dance itself.
Our Last Tango
Cast: María Nieves Rego, Juan Carlos Copes
Director: German Kral
Length: 85 minutes
Chapel Hill: Chelsea.