The Tango Lesson

The Tango Lesson

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sally Potter
Produced by Christopher Sheppard
Oscar Kramer
Written by Sally Potter
Starring Sally Potter
Pablo Verón
Music by Fred Frith
Sally Potter
Cinematography Robby Müller
Edited by Hervé Schneid
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • 29 August 1997 (1997-08-29) (Italy)
Running time
101 minutes
Country Argentina
United Kingdom
Language English

The Tango Lesson (Spanish: 'La lección de tango') is a 1997 drama film written and directed by Sally Potter. It is a semi-autobiographical film starring Potter and Pablo Verón, about Argentinian Tango.[1]

The film, a co-production of Argentina, France, Germany, Netherlands and the United Kingdom, was produced by Christopher Sheppard in Britain and Oscar Kramer in Argentina, and was shot mostly in black and white in Paris and Buenos Aires. The soundtrack includes original recordings of Carlos Gardel's Mi Buenos Aires querido and Ástor Piazzolla's Libertango, two of the most iconic tangos in the history of the genre. It also includes an original song written and sung by Potter.


Sally, a filmmaker and screenwriter suffering from writer's block, is dissatisfied with her film project, a murder mystery called Rage, which features the fashion industry. Taking a break, she travels to Paris, where she sees the dancer Pablo (Pablo Verón) performing tango. She becomes obsessed with the dance and offers Pablo a part in her film in exchange for dance lessons. The two become deeply involved as dancers and as lovers. Their emotional intimacy threatens the success of their dancing together. The film explores the conflict between the woman dancer accepting the man's lead in the dance, while the man must accept the woman's lead in the film. It is a love story and a showcase for Verón's dancing.



The film was first presented at the Venice Film Festival in Italy on 29 August 1997. One week later it was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada on 8 September 1997. The picture screened at various film festivals, including: the Mar del Plata Film Festival, Argentina; the Reykjavik Film Festival, Iceland; the Istanbul Film Festival, Turkey; and others.

Film Soundtrack

Exhibition dates

Critical reception

New York Times film critic, Janet Maslin, thought the film was rather simple, and wrote,

"Stiffly playing a filmmaker with a growing passion for the tango, [Sally Potter] makes this a handsome, dryly meticulous film with no real fire anywhere beyond its supple dance scenes. The lessons are numbered and cataloged with an obsessive care like that of Peter Greenaway, but this material has little of his corresponding complexity."[2]

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert discussed in his review the film's major goal, writing, "Most dances are for people who are falling in love. The tango is a dance for those who have survived it, and are still a little angry about having their hearts so mishandled. The Tango Lesson is a movie for people who understand that difference."[3]

Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle staff critic, lauded the film and the courage of director Potter, and wrote,

"British director Sally Potter stuck her neck out when she made The Tango Lesson, a fictionalized account of her relationship with Argentine tango master Pablo Veron...Potter takes what seemed like a recipe for embarrassment and excess and delivers a film that's sweet and understated and devoid of diva posturing...[the film is] smoothly directed, nicely written and falters only in the performance that Potter was able to squeeze out of herself while performing her multiple tasks."

Yet, Guthmann says Potter should have cast another actor in her role. He adds,

"It's too bad, then, that Potter couldn't have figured out a way to use another actress to play herself. She often looks worn out, which makes sense given her offscreen responsibilities but works against her tale of courtship, infatuation and the emotional sparks that fly between two gifted, bullheaded artists."[4]




  1. The Tango Lesson at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. Maslin, Janet. The New York Times, film review, "Filmmaker Falls for The Tango in Paris," November 14, 1997.
  3. Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times, film review, 19 December 1997. Last accessed: 18 January 2008.
  4. Guthmann, Edward (25 December 1997). "film review, "Sally Potter's Elegant 'Tango,' romantic tale's only misstep is director as lead". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 18 January 2008.
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