When a young European woman assumes a false identity in 1920s Argentina, she gets more than she bargained for.
Set in Buenos Aires in 1924, when Valentino was the movie icon of the world (the film opens with the famous tango scene from The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse), this stylish and intriguing debut feature from writer Leonard Schrader (Paul's brother) is likely to provoke a fair amount of controversy, pleasing some, disgusting others.
The comprehensive advance screening notes explain how "the evolution of the tango culture reflects Argentina's turbulent history through the 20s" - a history that apparently included a thriving white slave trade in which one organisation in particular imported brides from poor Polish families, put them through fake Jewish weddings, and then sold them into prostitution. This movie, though, played out in a hermetically sealed world of sexual depravity, general corruption and sadistic violence conveys no such factual foundation for its story of deception, lust and death, leaving the audience instead with an extended sado-masochistic fantasy masquerading as art, is executed as part-melodrama, part-pornography.
The plot has the young wife (May) of an old man (Rey) faking a disappearance, taking on the identity of a "bride" who has committed suicide, and finding herself kept in bondage (literally as well as metaphorically) in a baroque brothel-cum-tango hall. Caught between her Jewish gangster-husband (Morales), his vulture of a mother (Lincovski) and Cholo (D'Onofrio), a loveless sadist who dresses like Valentino and has an all-consuming passion for the tango, she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the latter, with inevitably explosive results.
The cast is excellent, giving this pretentious drivel all they've got, and French actress Mathilde May is a 40-carat stunner. If you find the idea of dancing the tango in an abattoir, literally stepping in the runnels of blood, one of life's great erotic turn-ons, you'll love this film.
It's visual sumptuousness and unbridled commitment, while undeniably holding one's interest, also serves to contribute to the rather nasty taste it ultimately leaves in the mouth.