It takes a while for viewers unfamiliar with Luis Cardei to really get into “The Tango Singer. The life of an obscure Argentine musician who never rose to international fame may not appeal to everyone, but the film is more about the touching story of the man behind the mic than it is about his success as a singer.
Driven by a passion for music, director, scriptwriter and producer Gabriel Arregui chose to center his second feature film on the true story of Cardei (played by Osqui Guzman), a man with a soulful deep voice who spends his entire life trying to earn the recognition of being a tango singer.
The film is Argentina’s submission to the festival’s International Feature Films Competition, but it will probably not be strong enough to stand against other productions.
Cardei’s was raised by both his parents, who only decide to get married after the father falls ill with cancer. He dies shortly after, leaving a young Cardei in the care of his mother.
Struggling with hemophilia, an illness that hinders the body s ability to control blood clotting, Cardei constantly has to live with weakened muscles and a stinging pain in his joints. It also stops his legs from growing in proportion with his body, and he is unable to walk on his own for several years in his early life.
With the unfaltering support of his mother, and later his wife and son, Cardei learns to live with the illness, easing the pain with frequent shots that leave his veins tattered. Only after overcoming a drug addiction, with the help of his wife Inés (Claudia Disti) and several months in a rehabilitation center, does Cardei begin to focus on his music.
The porteño (a native from Buenos Aires) lands a few gigs performing at downtown pubs then at more posh restaurant where he has to sing over the clatter of the kitchen and the rowdy customers. Eventually, Cardei recorded his music, but all in all, he only managed to release four albums, according to the director.
“Cardei is not famous in Argentina, Arregui told Daily News Egypt, neither is he a prominent figure in the history of tango music. He had a small but dedicated fan base, and was only known among a close circle of people who were regular patrons of the venues where he performed.
The film is done simply, with subdued tones and unsophisticated lighting techniques to focus solely on the story of this man. One of the drawbacks, though, was choppy editing and a storyline that jumped abruptly from one phase of Cardei’s life to the next.
“The Tango Singer’s strength lies in exploring the bonds between husband and wife as they live through trying times and the interdependent relationship between Cardei and his son.
There is little known about the solemn, kind tango singer, but when asked in one interview what he would say of someone who despises tango, Cardie said, “To despise tango is to despise your own neighborhood, the schools were you grew up, memories of friends, old girlfriends and even your own mother. Tango is us. We are the essence of tango.
Director Arregui spent three years researching the film by talking to Cardei’s wife and son, learning as much about his life and creating a plot that sticks closely to the chronology of events. Some parts of his life were undoubtedly difficult to recount, especially for his wife, whose love and support never faltered even when he chose to leave her for a much younger woman after 30 years of marriage.
When his illness began to affect his singing, he undergoes an operation and is able to perform for a while, but the disease eventually gets the better of him. The director chooses not to show Cardei’s death explicitly, instead opting for a more “poetic way to end the story of the tango singer.
Scenes shot in black and white represent Cardei’s dreams, the most recurring of which is where he straps wings onto his ramshackle car and drives off. Throughout the movie we see these images without seeing what he’s driving towards.
Only at the end does he, in the dream, fly safely across a small ramp and land softly on the other side, a stark symbolism of one man’s perseverance towards a very modest goal.
Cardei died in 2000 at the age of 55.
The pace of the film is quite slow at first, but towards the middle of the story we become engrossed in this man’s journey. As the director said, it takes a while to understand tango singing – maybe that’s why it took some time for the audience to enjoy the music.
As a young boy, Arregui said he liked rock but his father predicted he’d start to appreciate tango when he enters his teens. “Tango is the expression of the soul, said Arregui, and it takes time to grow on you. “Tango tells real stories, and Cardei sang these songs because they reflected real emotions, said Arregui, and he chose to stick to traditional tango singing because he had little admiration for the way it had evolved over time.
Before the screening, Arregui got to spend a few nights in downtown Cairo. “You have a very musical city, he said, You can hear music everywhere, in the streets, in the bars; it’s not like that in Buenos Aires.