Sky-writer Vincent (Bohringer) discovers his wife is having an affair and, using his aircraft, kills both her and her lover. Meanwhile, compulsive philanderer Paul (Lhermitte) watches his wife Marie (Miou Miou) walk out on him after she discovers him pursuing yet another extramarital affair. His uncle Francois (Noiret) brings him together with Vincent, whom he cajoles into agreeing to kill Marie. The three set off to complete the task, but chance encounters with a string of women begin to weaken Paul and Vincent’s resolve…
Within its first ten minutes, ‘Tango’ establishes its quirky style in fine form (and please note that spoilers follow throughout). Wearing a flying cap and goggles, madcap pilot Vincent speeds along a country highway in a bright yellow VW convertible, the stereo on full. Apparently on a whim, he pulls sharply off the road at full speed and drives onto a runway directly towards a plane that’s taking off. “Get it up!” he shouts gleefully at the fast approaching plane. Barely in time the plane rises, just missing the car. “You see! It was easy” Vincent shouts. Suddenly serious, he screeches to a halt, climbs out of the car and into a stunt plane, in which he carries out his job: writing smoke messages in the sky. His work is seen by his wife, Helene, who is in the habit of having sex with another man while Vincent flies. The next day the adulterous couple are at it again. Gazing out the window Helene sees his plane in the air but then recoils in shock when she sees the smoky words. “That’s not Vincent’s writing!” she shrieks, throwing her lover out of the house in fright. True enough, Vincent is waiting in the bushes outside the house in his yellow VW, flying goggles in place. When he sees the panic-stricken lover depart at high speed in his black BMW he smiles in recognition, puts ‘The Ride of the Valkyrie’ on the stereo and gives chase, eventually (after switching to his biplane) forcing him off the road and killing him. Luring his wife into the biplane for an ‘anniversary’ flight, he confesses to her that he’s been a workaholic, blind to her needs, and begs her to forgive him. They take off and in the air, just before he’s about to perform a loop-the-loop, he confides in her cheerfully: “I’ve cut your seat belt, when we’re upside down, out you go!” She plummets to her death.
I describe the above sequence just to give you a taste of ‘Tango’s high-speed, blackly comic style. Part sex comedy, part road movie, part deadpan farce, it’s chock-full of acerbic humour, brilliant deadpan performances and outrageously scripted scenes. Musing on infidelity, sex, death and marriage, the odd triumvirate head south on their deadly mission, encountering a series of beautiful, highly motivated women with bizarre agendas of their own. Yet while they talk incessantly about women, the real relationship these three badly behaving men are really developing is with each other. They set each other absurd, infantile challenges, indulge in openly licentious dialogue and ridicule each other’s jealousies, lusts and perversions, yet somehow end up enjoying each other’s company.
Paul sums up their odd circumstance in a voice-over: “It was like a holiday. Days without schedules, silence without nagging, vulgarity without guilt, the promise of good times, without women.” Francois looks forward to the time when they’ve killed Marie and can live together in a utopian, women-free household: “We’ll tell dirty jokes, allow swear words in Scrabble, hold dick contests and fart when we want.” Vincent, in contrast, claims to love all women: “Men are one-track minded,” he growls. “Aren’t you?” asks Paul. “Of course,” Vincent replies, “that’s how I know men are one-track minded.” Paul nods reflectively…
By the way, the easy talk of killing women should be taken with a kilo of salt; the film is not a misogynist rant, but rather a dark satirical comedy which skewers for pleasure many of the subjects that French cinema usually tackles with deadly, often tiresome seriousness. It brilliantly apes the very Gallic habit of intellectualising romantic relationships between men and women, by delivering its own brand of outrageous philosophy in deadpan exchanges between the three leads. Thus, when Vincent demands to know why Paul wants his wife killed, he replies: “She stops me living.” “That’s stupid,” Vincent says, “All women stop men living. If everyone did like you, there’d be no women left.” “We don’t say kill them all,” interjects Francois, “Just the ones who bother us personally.” He continues: “My grandpa said, ‘A good hand job beats a bad marriage’. He mimed it as he spoke. It made my grandma cry, but I thought he was right.”
A wanton vulgate, Francois provides some of the film’s best bon mots, usually delivered with a portentously raised forefinger. A confirmed bachelor, he nevertheless sympathizes with his widowed or married colleagues, commiserating with them on women’s vindictiveness: “They watch us, smiling, waiting for mistakes, like refs with a yellow card.” On the absolute necessity of killing Marie, despite her fleeing to Africa: “A married woman, wherever she is, is always a threat.” And on women in general: “Even when they’re dead, they’re a pain in the arse.”
A lot of your enjoyment of ‘Tango’ will depend on whether you like absurd non-sequiturs and outrageous plot twists. For instance, in one scene Paul and Francois stand watching Vincent apparently fishing. “Something’s fishy,” says Paul. “What?” asks Francois. “He hasn’t got a line.” When they challenge Vincent he explodes with rage: “What’s the matter? It’s perfect! The fish don’t bother me and I don’t bother the fish!” Later on the three of them sit in a restaurant watching a young woman with her boorish husband. “What’s a girl like that doing with a pig like him? It’s disgusting!” fumes Vincent. “Are you saying she should just shoot him and go?” demands Paul, outraged. A second later a shot rings out – she has indeed shot him. They bundle her into the car and take off. ‘Why did you do it?” Vincent asks her. “What good is a man that doesn’t want children?” she asks, “Will one of you make me pregnant? I’m ovulating…”
And so on. ‘Tango’ moves forward at high speed and there was rarely a minute of its screen time when I wasn’t laughing out loud at something. Castwise the three leads are perfect, somehow managing to maintain a straight face throughout the script’s grotesque absurdities, and there is plentiful help from a raft of famous French faces including Jean Rochefort, Carole Bouquet and Miou-Miou. Sandra Majani, the titular star of ‘Yvonne’s Perfume’ also makes a brief cameo.
Visually ‘Tango’ is probably the least impressive of the three Second Sight Leconte DVDs, but not by much. I don’t think it’s necessarily the quality of the transfer, but rather the conditions that the film was made under – shot largely outside, using a lot of natural light – that give it a washed out look. There’s also dirt and debris that become visible during the film’s darker scenes. Given the terrible treatment subjected to ‘The Hairdresser’s Husband’, the spectre of cropping hangs over this film as it did over ‘Yvonne’s Perfume’ and, similarly, I have been unable to locate an alternate version to compare the image to. Accordingly, I can’t fully recommend this DVD.
This a film where dialogue is plentiful and the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack conveys all of the high-velocity French clearly and without distortion. Reynaldo Anselmi and Djabi Key’s songs – so essential in creating the bizarre mood of the film – also come across well.
Fast-paced and entertaining, I greatly enjoyed ‘Tango’. It’s constructed with the same degree of sophistication and attention to detail as ‘Hairdresser’s Husband’ and ‘Yvonne’s Perfume’, but is a very different style of film to either, reflecting yet another facet of this director’s extraordinary talent. Without special features and with the question of the film’s visual status remaining uncertain, the DVD represents a gamble – it doesn’t look or sound bad, but one hopes that someone is going to produce an authoritative version of this, and the other titles in the series, soon.
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