WHEN MARLON BRANDO WHIRLED Maria Schneider around a smoky dance hall 20 years ago, it may have been the Last Tango in Paris, but it was hardly the final time the sensuous Argentinian dance would receive big-screen exposure. No less than four current films feature tantalizing tango sequences.
The French import Indochine, nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, contains an affectionate mother-daughter pas de deux involving Catherine Deneuve and Linh Dan Pham. In The Cemetery Club, Danny Aiello does a flirtatious tango outdoors with Ellen Burstyn. And as dance contestants in Strictly Ballroom, an Australian box-office hit, Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice demonstrate the paso doble. a distant Latin cousin of the tango that, to the average moviegoer, looks strikingly similar.
Yet only in Scent of a Woman—an Academy Award nominee for Best Picture—is the tango more than tangential. "It's the first time you see the human side of Al Pacino's character," says Jerry Mitchell, a Broadway hoofer (The Will Rogers Follies) who was summoned to the Manhattan set last year to help Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar perfect their steps. In Scent, Pacino plays a blind ex-Army officer who meets Anwar in New York's Pierre Hotel and, in one of the most delicious dance scenes in recent memory, sweeps her oil her feet.
Anwar, Mitchell says, "was fabulous. She'd studied ballet as a teenager in London and picked up the tango in a couple of sessions." Pacino, he adds, found it tougher, but "he has a natural sense of rhythm. We'd reward him with cappuccino at the end of each session. He got the dance down in 3½ weeks."
While the tango may be difficult to master, its continuing allure, says Mitchell, is easy to explain. "It's very sexual—and extremely romantic. It will be around." he says, "long after these movies are gone."