Cafe De Los Maestros

2009-06-18 15:51

What it's about:

A collection of tango musicians – mostly elderly, mostly eccentric – gather in Buenos Aires to recreate the songs of a bygone era. The project culminates in a concert of these musical masters – the Café de los Maestros.

What we thought:

Ever since the runaway success of Wim Wenders and Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club, any musical documentary will be forced to suffer comparisons to that film. In the case of Café de los Maestros, though, contrasting the two seems appropriate – they are, after all, pretty much the same concept.

A musician – in this case, Gustavo Santaolalla – seeks out the fading luminaries from the genre’s golden era. Through a combination of archival footage, interviews with the charming performers, a montage of city scenes, and rehearsal sessions, the film seeks to capture not just the most sublime examples of the music, but its very essence. Sound familiar? It is. Unfortunately, Café de los Maestros doesn’t hold up too well against its Cuban predecessor. 

As interesting as the scenery of Buenos Aires is, it’s difficult to measure up to the crumbling 1950s time capsule that is Havana. I was hoping for the colour to be provided by the lives of the performers themselves, but this is where Café de los Maestros is a little thin. I wanted to know more about these musicians – some dour, some flamboyant – and delve more into their personal stories. Have they been making music consistently their whole lives, or are they recently "rediscovered", forgotton treasures of the tango? Unfortunately, this question goes unanswered. Instead, though, we’re treated to some truly magnificent music.

While the music is all fine and good, I do wish that the film had covered more of the visual aspect of the tango: dancing. It’s only featured in a couple of scenes, and doesn’t attempt to explain the attitude and mystique of the style. It seems to be a wasted opportunity to give an outsider a more thorough understanding of the art form.

For afficionadoes of the music, I can’t imagine you being anything but utterly enthralled. For the rest of us, though, you’ll probably leave the cinema feeling like you’ve only heard half of the story.

The sexy allure of tango culture comes to life in a documentary that owes much to Buena Vista Social Club.

Vivienne 2009/06/18 4:44 PM
For Argentinians Tango is about the music (the Lyrics, the bandoneon, the emotion) and not about the dance - that's why this movie is captured in the way it. Dance is secondary....or lower. :) Its only the rest of us that 'ignorantly' think its about the dance.
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