What do you do when you are desperate for money to save your school and the only option to solving your problems is to enter a Tango dance contest? But that goes against your religious principles? Not to mention the dancer he’d be paired with Vivian (Dancing With the Stars –Karina Smirnoff) is breathtaking. That’s the question that plagues Hasidic Rabbi Moshe Yehuda (Jos Laniado). You see as an Orthodox man he is not allowed to touch any woman other than his wife.
No other job has come his way and he absolutely must find a way to compete.
He talks to his wife Rachel (Judi Beecher), to Rebbe Menachem (Bern Cohen) and can’t get an answer. So, he goes first to the Catholic Church down the street and listens to Father Anthony (Oscar nominated Joe Bologna), then to a Muslim Imam (Yasir Sitara), and finally to a Sikh holy man Rav Prajna -The Traveling Mystic (Hamza Zaman.) Not even the Lord really answers him- though there are lights shining through the clouds and a few other moments to guide him. I laughed at the authentic way the rabbi gave him an answer that wasn’t an answer. Frustrated he finally finds an answer, but will the community support him or ostracize him?
On top of that he has to deal with his brother Rahamin (Claudio Laniado) who is about to marry a Reform Jew played by Marci Fine and needs money for the wedding while his mother (Oscar nominated Renee Taylor) clashes with Marci’s mom (Golden Globe nominee Lainie Kazan.)
In the end, all the religious groups get together to support Moshe and his dance partner – and show that we are all one family. We learn that even though our cultures are different, we all want the same things. As the Sikh holy man said, “All religions are like streams; they all pour into the same ocean.”
The authentic film Tango Shalom has broken many firsts – not only is it the first film in history to have a unique collaboration with the Vatican, Hasidic Synagogue, Mosque and Sikh Temple and first film to use the Vatican choir in the soundtrack, which was actually recorded at the Vatican, but they shot as well at 770- the HQ of Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Movement in Crown Heights Brooklyn. A real international religious flavor.
Another amazing location was the Crown Heights brownstone where Moshe and family lived – it actually belonged to a real Rabbi Yehuda who had been told by the great Rebbe Menachem Schneerson that something special would happen in his home.
In the Sikh temple, the congregation insisted that they had an obligation to feed the whole cast and crew since their religion demands hospitality to strangers. The Sikhs actually consider themselves the “Jews of India” because of the oppression they have felt.
Directed by Gabriel Bologna who did My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Tango Shalom was produced by Joel Zwick, Robert Meyer Burnett (Agent Cody Banks), Zizi Bologna (who also served as the music supervisor and composer) and executive produced by Judi Beecher. Jordi Caballero choreographed the dance sequences.
The soundtrack by Universal music featured Grammy winner Gordon Goodwin, and Latin nominated Tango sensation Daniel Binelli. Music was provided by The Circolo S Pietro del Vaticano Choir as well as modern Klezmer bands – Golem, The Burning Bush and Barcelona Gypsy Band with the score by Zoe Tiganouria and Zizi Bologna.
The director of photography was Massimo Zeri who has worked with Gabriel Bologna on several films.
Ms. Beecher, who played the wife, but also ended up being an executive producer had first met Jos and Claudio – the writers- at Cannes almost eight years ago. She said, “I had a strong sense that I should do this movie.” In studying for her role, she met with many of the Hasidic women of Williamsburg and Crown Heights so she could make sure her role was correct. As a writer/producer she is currently working on a story about her family’s escape from Nazi Germany.
Because the main writers- Jos and Claudio– are observant Jews, there was no filming on the Sabbath – from Friday night until Saturday night. And each day that they shot they started with prayers. The idea came to Jos one Purim when dancing at Chabad.
Yasir Sitara, who played the Imam, is actually an Iraqi-American who saw many of his family members murdered by Saddam Hussein. He was also a member of the mosque which raised money for the victims of the Philadelphia synagogue shooting.
Unfortunately, Joe Bologna, who played the priest, died shortly after they finished shooting, but got to see the film before he died.
The heartwarming family film is a rare example that contains humor, inclusivity, and warmth with a message of peace, tolerance and love. There’s a message here for all religions and cultures.
The film, which opened to a limited viewing on September 3 and more than met their opening weekend expectations . They will now expand to many more theatres, and more cities. On October 29th the film will go to streaming, as well. It’s being distributed by Vision Films and has already garnered many festival awards.
This is a film, filled with award-winning actors, that you will want to see several times over.
For more information and tickets go to the website at Tango Shalom.