Having dipped her toe into the mainstream with Orlando, director Potter goes scrambling back to the arthouse left bank with this passionless drama about that famous duple time dance, the tango.
Struggling to raise funds for a stylised thriller about murder in a Paris fashion house, Potter (playing herself) becomes obsessed with the tango and requests a lesson from exiled Argentinian maestro Pablo Veron (also playing himself). He's suitably impressed by her progress to invite her to dance with him at a benefit show, while she returns the favour by making a film about him. Amid all this mutual admiration and professional temperament, a romance of sorts develops. It sounds the epitome of pomposity and, in many ways, it is. But there's plenty to admire; primarily, the stunning black-and-white photography of Robby Muller which occasionally rivals anything he's done for Wim Wenders or Jim Jarmusch. Equally impressive is the dancing of Veron. In addition to his evocative tango routines, he also throws in tributes to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, while his acting has the swagger of the young Travolta.
But undermining everything is Potter's onscreen presence. Not only is she a particularly limited actress, but she treats herself to too many close-ups - the majority of which are in the middle of Veron's dance routines. Such blatant narcissism would be forgiveable if it had any dramatic relevance, but Potter's favoured expression is so impassive that it betrays no emotion to interpret. The Tango Lesson has a curio value; but you can't help thinking that Potter's psycho catwalk film-within-a-film would have been a great deal more entertaining.