Saturday, May 04, 2024

Adios Buenos Aires: Last Tangos in Argentina

Never refer to a bandoneon as an accordion. You’d be barred from entering Argentina. The smaller bellows instrument makes every melody sound beautiful and sad. Unfortunately, nothing is sadder than a depression, which had been the reality of the Argentinean economy for three years and counting in late 2001. Julio Farber has had enough, so he is immigrating to Germany with his mother and daughter. However, he has yet to break the bad news to his tango band. Despite the chaos of the Argentinazo riots, saying goodbye is hard to do in German Kral’s Adios Buenos Aires, which is now playing in New York.

Farber and his bandmates love the music, but they live off their day jobs. Their last gig only earned them a dozen empanadas, but since this is Argentina, at least they were probably delicious empanadas. After their latest vocalist quits, they try to recruit the legendary but long-retired Ricardo Tortorella as his replacement. He turns them down unequivocally when they visit his nursing home, but then arrives right on time for their first rehearsal.

Farber is hoping to liquid his assets quickly, including the car a rookie cab driver soon runs off the road, into an embankment. Of course, when Farber tracks down Mariela Martinez through her company, she admits she is uninsured. However, he allows her to pay for the damages in installments, once he recognizes how hard she works for her young deaf son. In the meantime, Martinez agrees to chauffeur Farber and his bandmates to all their gigs, so she soon gets to know them all quite well.

Indeed, meeting the band’s prickly personalities is one of the film’s greatest pleasures. The piano player, Carlos Acosta, is obsessed with numbers in a way that often gives rise to compulsive gambling. Tito Godoy is the bass player and neighborhood mechanic, who has cannibalized more parts from Farber’s wrecked car than he has fixed. Atilio Fernandez is a retired history professor, whose leftist sensibilities are inflamed by the economic crisis, even though it was the Peronistas and their ilk that got the country in its current mess.

Kral has a keen affinity for tango, having previously helmed the documentary,
Our Last Tango. However, the film also vividly recreates the anarchy and anxiety of the Argentinazo era. Savvy viewers will be expecting the government’s notoriously draconian limits on bank withdrawals, so every time Farber deposits the proceeds from the sale of his assets, the pit in their stomachs will tighten. Watching the mayhem that plays out in the banks and on the streets helps explain why Argentina just elected Javier Milei, arguably the most libertarian head of state ever. Considering what the Peronistas and their various splinter parties have wrought, who wouldn’t want to try something completely different?

Yet, Kral quite deftly balances the real-life political and economic disorder with the music and the bittersweet romantic comedy. The mutual attraction that blossoms between Martinez and Farber is never driven by cute contrivances. More than anything, their shared experiences as single parents lead to sympathy and understanding.

Every significant role is perfectly cast, starting with the romantic leads, Diego Cremonesi and Marina Bellati, who develop a sweetly shy and believably awkward chemistry together. Mario Alarcon plays the great Tortorella with elegant dignity and poignant sadness. Carlos Portaluppi, Rafael Spregelburd, and Manuel Vicente are colorfully crusty as Farber’s bandmates. They get a lot of laughs kvetching, but there is a good deal of wisdom in their banter. They also look convincing holding their instruments. That is especially true for Cremonesi wiedling the bandoneon.

Throughout the film, Kral shrewdly incorporated classic tangos that eloquently express the emotional state of his characters at every stage of the narrative. Lucky New Yorkers had the opportunity to hear bandoneon player Rodolfo Marcelo Zanetti perform a solo tango before Friday night screenings, which nicely set the mood for the film. Evening screenings tonight and tomorrow will also be preceded by tango dance performances, which should be another pleasant bonus (5/4 & 5/5),

sounds amazing (happily, there will be a soundtrack release). If you don’t get tango after watching the film, you never will (and it will be your loss). Kral’s light touch also nicely suits both the love story and the tragic drama. Frankly, the film has the kind of wistfully romantic vibe that made Il Postino and Shall We Dance such big hits in the 1990s. This is a rare film that has heart, rhythm, and some historical perspective. Very highly recommended, Adios Buenos Aires is now playing in New York at the Cinema Village.