An affable romantic comedy in the guise of a road movie, "Asphalt Tango" brings a light French touch to its story of a busload of Romanian girls headed West for what they expect will be careers as "exotic dancers." Tango of the title refers to the leisurely paced chase by a heartbroken mechanic trying to win back his wanderlusting wife.

An affable romantic comedy in the guise of a road movie, “Asphalt Tango” brings a light French touch to its story of a busload of Romanian girls headed West for what they expect will be careers as “exotic dancers.” Tango of the title refers to the leisurely paced chase by a heartbroken mechanic trying to win back his wanderlusting wife before the bus crosses the border. A crowd-pleasing date movie for grown-ups, pic could muster pleasant B.O. in some Euro territories and earn coin from TV sales.

Likeable cast is headed by Charlotte Rampling as the girls’ cooler-than-a-cucumber French boss, Marion, who teaches them tricks of the trade on the way, and Mircea Diaconu as Andrei, an unlucky Romanian husband who learns his wife, Dora (Catalina Rahaianu), a ballerina with the national opera, has not only left him but also been duped into Marion’s scheme to recruit hookers with the promise of employment as dancers. To woo his wife home, Andrei first has to get past the cynical Marion, who agrees to give him one last night to make his appeal, rightly guessing that his niceness is no match for her worldly wiles.

On the acting side, however, Diaconu does hold his own against Rampling, with an on-the-mark perf as the frustrated hubby. Faced with an array of amusingly presented hurdles — ranging from strikes to police corruption to sheer laziness — Diaconu makes the laughs work, with a subtle double-take when he at last finds a taxi driver who’s on duty, or with a mildly goofy grin as the bevy of beauties (egged on by Marion) one by one fill his bedroom for a night of fun.

Speaking French throughout, Rampling gives an economical performance that’s a nice counterbalance to the diffuse nature of those around her. From the spiked-heel marks she leaves in the soft asphalt, to her lesson in the art of male humiliation, Rampling paints a character who cuts through the distractions that would drown a lesser woman. Portraits of her young charges are less clearly drawn: Except for two or three, they blend into one generic good-time gal.

In his second feature, director Nicolae Caranfil (“Don’t Lean Out the Window”) generally moves things along at a nice clip, with laughs evenly sprinkled throughout the 90-odd minutes. Print caught occasionally had a flat, washed-out quality.

Asphalt Tango

(FRENCH)

Production

A UGC release (in France) of a Les Films du Rivage/Domino Films/France 3 Cinema production. (International sales: UGC, Paris.) Produced by Marc Ruscart, Christian Comeaga. Directed, written by Nicolae Caranfil.

Crew

Camera (color), Christian Comeaga; editor, Mircea Ciocaltei; music, Caranfil, Reinhardt Wagner, Anton Suteu; art direction, Christian Niculescu; costume design, Viorica Petrovice; sound, Anusavan Salamanian. Reviewed at KarlovyVary Film Festival, July 7, 1997. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Marion ..... Charlotte Rampling Andrei ..... Mircea Diaconu Gigi ..... Florin Calinescu Driver ..... Constantin Cotimatis Dora ..... Catalina Rahaianu Felicia ..... Marthe Felten

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