Tango Shalom is a well-meaning, well-made independent picture about squaring conflicts between devout faith and spiritual calling. Rabbi Moshe Yehuda (Jos Laniado) is a Hasidic Jew in New York City living a quiet life as a teacher in his secluded community. When their temple needs money, however, he can’t seem to find a job in the city that doesn’t challenge his deeply held beliefs … until he witnesses Viviana (Karina Smirnoff), a teacher of the tango.
One thing leads to another, and Moshe ends up recruited by Viviana to do the tango on a dance-off program for a cash prize that could solve his community’s money issues. Of course, Moshe can’t touch her, which is more than a minor problem when it comes to the intimacy of a tango.
I don’t know enough about the Hasidic faith to make a judgment on Tango Shalom’s depiction of that community or the moral lessons it tries to impart. Other reviews online have raised some issues. I can’t advertise Tango Shalom as a specifically insightful film about this community. However, the first part of Rabbi Yehuda’s journey takes him across a diverse group of spiritual leaders: a catholic priest, an muslim imam and a Hindu pujari. Each helps Moshe through his conflict in ways that don’t condescend his religious convictions as depicted in this story. As a story — not necessarily a documentary-like exploration of community — it works as a thoughtful piece of family-friendly dramatic comedy.
Laniada and Smirnoff have excellent chemistry as an odd-couple dance duo. Their solution to the physical-contact problem is simple and sweet, and makes for a particularly well-shot and choreographed third act dance number. Director Gabriel Bologna directs from a script by his late brother, Joseph (who plays the priest and to whom the movie is dedicated). As with most lower-budget movies, part of the pleasure is seeing a cast of lesser-known character actors go for it in colorful roles. Tango Shalom is a film about family that feels like a family production, with an abundance of warmth, humor and good heart.