You can imagine the pitch: 'It's the Buena Vista Social Club of tango'. (Old-school tango, that is - before Nuevo Tango genius Astor Piazzola began to take the music in a more radical direction). And it really is: there's the gathering of the old maestros, the reminiscences, the archive footage of how things used to be, the rehearsal, and the final concert in a prestigious venue - which is, naturally, a triumph.
Tango fans will lap it up - once they get the message that this digitally-shot documentary is about the music, rather than the dance, of which there are only brief glimpses.
But although there's no doubting the sincere, affectionate nature of the project - which is co-produced by Walter Salles - those of us who do not live, breathe or even dance the tango are likely to feel a little short-changed. There's little context for relating the birth of the musical form or its place in Argentinian culture, other than the odd romantic slogan like 'you can't separate tango from life'.
And although some of the veteran musicians introduced in the build-up to the concert - like feisty old actress and singer Virginia Luque, or racecourse-addicted vocalist and raconteur Juan Carlos Godoy - are real cards, we never really find out much about their background, or their place in the hierarchy of Argentina's most passionate artform. It's as if the filmmakers don't need to try too hard because - having seen Buena Vista - we already know the script.
Cafe de los Maestros is based on a 2005 double CD produced by Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain composer Gustavo Santaolalla, with tracks played and composed by some of the surviving greats of the golden age of tango in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The idea for the film and the concert (which took place in Buenos Aires' historic Teatro Colon in August 2006) came later - which perhaps explains why the 'let's get the band together again' structure is only hinted at here.
What we get instead is extensive, confusingly-structured coverage of the original recording sessions, the build-up to the concert and the concert itself, plus inset-interviews with some of the leading stars, like dazzling pianist Horacio Salgan or live-wire composer and arranger Mariano Mores, who celebrates his ninetieth birthday this year. The qualitative limitations of the HD footage were shown up on the Berlinale big screen, with colour bleeding, glare and zig-zag diagonals marring a film that should be as crisp and focused as the music it portrays.
And it's the music we fall back on in the end: the edited highlights of the Colon concert, which occupy most of the last half hour of the film, include rousing versions of classics like Orgullo Criollo or Alma en Pena. In the end, Cafe de los Maestros will probably work best as a special-edition DVD appendage to the existing CD than as a standalone theatrical release - except at home in Argentina, where tango is a religion.
Lita Stantic Producciones
VideoFilmes Produccoes Artisticas
Pathe Pictures International
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