Tango Shalom, currently playing the Jewish film festival circuit, makes some questionable choices in a film about a Chasidic Jew.
I’m Orthodox and as such, I’m entering the film through that perspective. Prior to the pandemic, I would split my time between the local Modern Orthodox shul and Chabad. Even back home, I was exclusive to Chabad. With that being said, this film falls short on so many levels.
Rabbi Moshe Yehuda (Jos Laniado) considers himself to be an amateur Hora dancer. With his Hebrew school going bankrupt, the rabbi believes the answer comes in the form of a Tango competition with his soon-to-be partner Viviana Nieves (Karina Smirnoff). His wife and children are against the idea. So is the Grand Rabbi of his particular sect and of course, the Crown Heights community. Will Moshe’s family come around to the idea or will they laugh it off? The spiritual crisis leads the rabbi to seek advice from a Catholic priest, a Muslim imam, and a Sikh holy man. I know exactly what you’re thinking! The only thing missing here is a bar! Anyway, they think there is a way in which he can compete without sacrificing his Chasidic beliefs.
There are choices being made here that are out of left field. Some, especially, are frowned upon in Chasidic Judaism. For one, I don’t know a single Chasidic Jew that would enter the sanctuary of a Catholic church. Come to think of it, the practice is also forbidden by the Talmud (Avodah Zara 17a). After watching the film, I ran this by a few Chasidic friends and it’s a major no-no. This doesn’t even get to touching on the concept of tango dancing itself. There’s no mechitza on hand that is tall enough to where they can’t see each other dancing. The balloon isn’t fooling me or anyone, really!
The filmmakers might mean well but the film just isn’t believable. A Chasidic Jew dancing the tango? To quote Fiddler on the Roof: “Impossible! Absurd!” The further we go into the film, it becomes the kind of cringe-worthy viewing and not in a good way. Not even in the campy way! There is one hour and fifty-five minutes in all. Tango Shalom certainly is not a walk in the park let alone a hora through the park. Listen, I love to see more Chasidic Jewish representation on the screen. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t exactly provide a positive example. Balloon or no balloon, it is still mixed dancing. Later on in the film, there’s mixed dancing between husband and wife. I’m almost sure that it’s another no-no for Chasidic families!
This does not get into the language being used. The film features one term that is commonly seen as a slur. Even though I grew up with my own mom and maternal grandmother using it, I will not use it for the sake of this review. The word in question is a derogatory slur for non-Jewish women. I get that there are some people who still use it but it’s seen these days as a hateful word.
Behind the scenes, the film claims to be the first narrative feature to film inside of 770, the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters. A Chasidic friend tells me this isn’t true. According to the press notes, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson also blessed the purchase of the brownstone playing home to Rabbi Yehuda’s family in the film. The blessing is said to have been given to a Rabbi Yehuda in real life.
For what it’s worth, Tango Shalom is a family affair both in front and behind the camera. But at the end of the day, Tango Shalom is just another cinematic case of
DIRECTOR: Gabriel Bologna
SCREENWRITERS: Joseph Bologna, Jos Laniado, Claudio Laniado
CAST: Jos Laniado, Judy Beecher, Claudio Laniado, Renée Taylor, Lainie Kazan, Marcie Fine, Joseph Bologna, Karina Smirnoff