Review: "Christmas Tango" by Nikos Koutelidakis

Based on a novel by Yannis Xanthoulis, “Christmas Tango” is a dramatic love story set against a political backdrop with great commercial prospects and a sexy cast.

During the Greek junta, four people struggle with illicit desires at a military camp somewhere in Evros. Colonel Loggos is very much in love with his young wife, but the feelings are not mutual. She’s much more interested in Stefanos Karamanidis, a lieutenant determined to win her affections, who’s even learning the tango so he can ask her to dance at the upcoming Christmas party. Only problem is, his dance instructor, soldier Lazarou, a sensitive young man with an artistic disposition, suddenly finds himself faced with emotions he never even knew he had – emotions he’d barely admit to himself, let alone anybody else.

Based on a novel by Yannis Xanthoulis, “Christmas Tango” ventures into commercial mainstream drama, a relatively uncharted territory for the Greek film industry. Combining a polished production, a prestigious Greek writer and a spot-on cast of relative unknowns, the film boasts robust characters, intense dialogues, an old-world atmosphere and heaps of romantic tension. In other words it’s commercial cinema at its best, tailor-made for the average moviegoer.

Although Greeks are somewhat narrow-minded when it comes to homegrown commercial releases, “Christmas Tango” proves they don’t have to be tasteless comedies to break the box office. In reality, this film is on a par with like-minded Hollywood melodramas that don’t require the critics’ seal of approval to cash in.

As for the political background, it holds a symbolic meaning rather than a literal one. The Greek military junta (1967–1974) simply sets the tone for the emotional claustrophobia plaguing the main characters, whose real desires are constantly suppressed by authority, same as the campsite is always smothered in fog.

Unrequited love aside, the real asset of “Christmas Tango” is definitely the casting. Giannis Bezos makes for an imposing military authority, while Antinoos Albanis handles his vulnerable character with discretion and sufficiency. Eleni Kokkidou effortlessly stands out despite her small part, while Vicky Papadopoulou is photogenic enough to fulfill her role’s requirements. However, the actor that truly caries the film and fills up the screen with his weathered good looks is undoubtedly Yannis Stankoglou.

The film has two major flaws: on the one hand it kicks off in the present tense and unfolds like a distant memory, transforming the actors into older versions of themselves with prosthetic makeup. The result is so unfortunate you can barely tell who’s who to the extend that a different, older, cast would have been much more convincing in the first place.
On the other hand, while the love triangle (Bezos – Stankoglou – Papadopoulou) gradually gains momentum, the relationship between Stankoglou and Albanis remains awkward and conservative throughout, although it’s obviously the most original part of the story.

The music by Jannos Eolou might be exquisite but it’s all-pervasive and would have probably been a lot more effective in smaller doses.

All in all, “Christmas Tango” isn’t necessarily for everyone but it’s certainly meant for the majority of moviegoers, who prefer beauty over complexity. At least this time they don’t have to go all the way to Hollywood to find it!