Tango de los Muertos

Julian Winter & Colette Winter

508-904-8319

julian@julianwinter.com

Note: Due to the nature of a web page some of the standard screenplay formatting is lost. Updated 9/9



FADE IN:

A couple dances tango, slow, languid, sensual, time stands still. When the music stops the woman slumps as if dead.

INT. A JAIL CELL - NIGHT

JOSÉ, appearing all of 110 years, lies dead on the floor. A MEDICAL EXAMINER(ME) works on the body as a COP stands nearby. ERNIE, mid-40's, enters and sizes the situation.

ERNIE
Why bother Homicide with this?

COP
The guy we put in here wasn't a day
over thirty. This ain't the same man.

Ernie looks to the ME, who shrugs.

ERNIE
Then who's this?

The cop shrugs. Ernie looks again to the ME.

ERNIE
Dead of natural causes anyway, no?

ME
Appears that way. Autopsy will tell.

ERNIE
If something turns up, call me.
(to the cop)
What you have is a missing person-
missing prisoner and you wasted my time.

COP
No one got in or out of here.

Ernie exits. The cop shakes his head in disbelief.

INT. RAUL'S DANCE STUDIO, BOTTOM OF STAIRS - DAY

MARISA, 40ish, Latin, glances to the top of the stairs.

TOP OF THE STAIRS

Marisa steps onto a well-worn dance floor. RAUL, maybe early 40's, black-hair-handsome surveys her. He wears gold on his wrist.

RAUL
You can't be the reporter?

MARISA
And why not?

Raul moves, with a cat-like stealthness, toward her.

RAUL
Of course, why not. Life is such a
delicious surprise.

He lowers the arm of a victrola onto a record. He extends his hand in invitation. Marisa, taken aback, does nothing. He holds her gaze, waiting.

RAUL
We can not, until the lady accepts.

Puzzled, Marisa extends her hand. Their touch is electric. Raul envelopes her in a close embrace. He gently closes her eyes and then closes his to initiate a tango.

He guides her, she follows, as if in a trance. In perfect time, as the music ends, they finish in the center of the floor.

Marisa opens her eyes, breathless. Raul smoothes a lock of her hair, which had fallen into her eyes, back into place, then steps back, pleased.

RAUL
Is that not what you came for?

Marisa regains her composure.

MARISA
I'm to do a life-style story on tango.

RAUL
Everything I could tell you was
contained in those three minutes.

The rest will just be talk.

MARISA
In order to return with my story
we'll need some talk.

Raul offers her a chair and prepares two coffees.

RAUL
Then it's my pleasure to share this
time with you.

She pulls out a notepad.

MARISA
How did you become involved in tango?

Raul leans back, eyes distant, savoring his sip.

RAUL
What do you know of the history of tango?

INT. CITY MORGUE - DAY

Ernie enters to find the ME working on José's body.

ME
We've a problem.

The ME holds a mug shot of José, appearing no older than age 30, beside the body.

ME
Does this look like the same guy?

ERNIE
How do I know?

ME
DNA matches one hundred percent.

ERNIE
And no homicide?

The ME agrees as he consults his report.

ME
He was a tango instructor.

ERNIE
Tango?

ME
Apparently they don't age too well.

Ernie contemplates.

ERNIE
Probably wouldn't hurt to nose around.

INT. NEWSROOM - DAY

Marisa glances to a copy of her story marked 'FINAL COPY-APPROVED' as she dials her phone.

MARISA
My editor wants a little more research.

She holds her breath.

RAUL (VO)
Are you free tonight?

MARISA
Yes.

She exhales.

INT. RAUL'S DANCE STUDIO - DAY

Raul sips coffee as Ernie shows him the mug shot of José.

RAUL
Yes, he's a dance instructor here.

ERNIE
How old is he?

Raul consults the photo.

RAUL
Oh, I don't know. It's hard to tell
the age of young people. No more
than thirty.

ERNIE
The medical examiner calculated he
was over a hundred.

Raul pauses to consider the words.

RAUL
Was?

Ernie nods.

RAUL
An accident?

MIRIAM, 40, a Latin Aphrodite, bursts into the studio shouting in Spanish. Raul nods toward Ernie. She stops.

MIRIAM
Buenos dí­­­­­as, Señor.

She resumes her agitated Spanish with Raul. He points to Ernie.

RAUL
That's what the detective explained.

Miriam looks Ernie up and down in his jeans, black T-shirt and cowboy boots. Raul speaks to Ernie.

RAUL
She says José is dead. As you see she's
very upset. José was well liked.

ERNIE
Apparently not by everyone. He fought
with a student who pressed charges.

José insulted the judge and got
thirty days for contempt.

RAUL
You didn't say how he died.

ERNIE
Old age.

Miriam gasps. Raul notes the mug shot.

RAUL
That's not possible.

Ernie produces the morgue photo of an old man. Miriam catches her breath.

ERNIE
And neither is this. Something's amiss.

Miriam goes off again in Spanish.

ERNIE
Could you tell her to calm down unless
she has something constructive to say.

Miriam stops in mid word to step directly in front of Ernie, eye to eye, toe to toe.


MIRIAM
I speak perfect English and if you
wish to address me, do so directly,
as a gentleman.

Ernie returns her stare, matching her intensity.

ERNIE
Calm down...Ma'am.

Miriam steps back to eye Ernie head to toe and back to head.

MIRIAM
I detect some Latin blood. How is it you
don't speak Spanish and more important,
don't know how to address a lady?

Raul appears to enjoy the confrontation. He says nothing.

ERNIE
My mother is Argentine. My father was
what I guess you'd call a gringo.

MIRIAM
I can't speak of your father. You
are clearly gringo.

She addresses Raul again in Spanish.

ERNIE
How do you say, hablo un poco?

Still speaking to Raul, in mid sentence she addresses Ernie.

MIRIAM
(to Ernie)
Idiot.

She finishes with Raul and exits. He sips coffee with a smile.

RAUL
I think she likes you.

Ernie glances to the aftermath of her wake.

ERNIE
I've a few more questions about José.

INT. THE MILONGA BAR - NIGHT

Marisa ascends the stairs to the dance floor. She pauses pressed to the wall looking for cover in the shadows.

A dozen couples move hypnotically. The women dance with eyes closed. The men step, the women follow. The men pause, the women embellish the moment with their footwork.

Raul dances with Miriam. He spies Marisa and smiles.

AT A TABLE

Raul sits close to Marisa pointing out the intricacies of tango etiquette. He notes her absence of a notepad.

RAUL
You're not taking notes?

She points to her head.

MARISA
I'm putting it all down up here.

He touches his heart.

RAUL
This is where you must take your
notes. Tango begins here.

The first thing is the cabeceo.

MARISA
Nod?

RAUL
Yes, the invitation to dance. See the
men. They catch a woman's eye, then
nod to the dance floor.

If she returns the gaze, the invitation
is accepted. If she looks away, declined.
No harm, no one's embarrassed.

MARISA
Ah. When I came to your studio. Your
invitation to dance.

RAUL
Precisely.

Raul motions to BOBBY, 34, pudgy, nerdy. He stares incessantly at Miriam, sharing her table with CONTESSA, 50, elegant, both sipping red wine.

TO MIRIAM

She looks at both photos of José, young and old. She doodles the words 'Tango de los Muertos' on her napkin.

Contessa eyes her intently. One could mistake them for lovers.

BACK TO RAUL

RAUL
See how the woman avoids initial
eye contact. She feels his stare and
doesn't wish to even decline.

The man should move on, politely leave
the woman her space.

Perhaps later she'll accept.

MARISA
She's so-

RAUL
-beautiful? Yes, Miriam in my estimation,
humbly, is the best milonguera in the world.

She makes any male lead look ten times
better than he is.

She's the most compassionate person
I know. She's penniless.

Everything she makes from her dance
productions she gives to charity.

Long ago, I accepted that if she were
to survive financially in this world
I'd need to look out for her.

She may be my best friend.

Marisa observes the affection in his face as he speaks.

MARISA
And the woman she's with?

RAUL
Ahhh, Contessa...

Bobby gulps his beer and stands up. Raul shakes his head.

RAUL
Watch.

Bobby heads to Miriam's table and stands directly in front of her. He asks for a dance.

RAUL
Never approach a lady's table uninvited.
The invitation and acceptance should
occur without a single word.

TO MIRIAM

Miriam glances to Bobby and demurely declines. He insists. She glances to him with a subtle shake of her head.

Contessa offers to dance with him. He refuses, intent on Miriam. She finally extends her hand, waiting to be escorted.

He hauls her to the floor and assumes close embrace. He moves clumsily, but she covers his mistakes, somehow making their dance look graceful.

TO CONTESSA

Contessa spins the napkin around to read Miriam's musings:

"Lives pass away, Life is immortal.
Lovers die, Love is eternal."

A smile crosses her lips as she looks to Miriam.

TO MIRIAM

Bobby's hand slips lower on her back. She opens their embrace, but Bobby clutches her tighter, pressing her breasts to him.

TO RAUL

Raul reaches to his forehead, grimacing.

BACK TO MIRIAM

Miriam slaps Bobby's face and disengages without disrupting the other dancers. She heads toward her table.

Bobby follows, grabbing her. Only then does she unleash her fury in a torrent of Spanish. Some men escort him away.

INT. AN ATTIC - NIGHT

Wind buffets the rafters as Ernie sorts through old phonograph records. A victrola and box of old B&W photos sits nearby.

ROSA, 70's, attractive, proud, pokes her head through the attic opening.

ROSA
What are you doing up here?

ERNIE
Thinking about him.

ROSA
Your grandfather?

He nods. She pauses, then clambers into the attic.

ROSA
What brought this up?

ERNIE
I was in a tango studio. They had the
old records. Got me thinking.

She takes the photos, leafs through them, settling on one.

ROSA
He danced tango like no one. My mother
had no choice but to fall in love.

She extends a photo of his grandparents.


ERNIE
And you?

ROSA
Your father never danced. He was a
good man in other ways.

ERNIE
I meant, did you tango?

Her eyes grow wistful, distant. The rafters creak.

ROSA
Of course. Mother said a woman
should know how to tango.

Tango reveals a man's soul. It
leaves no secrets.

ERNIE
Why didn't you teach me Spanish?

She thumbs through the records, taken aback. More wind.

ROSA
What is it Ernesto?

ERNIE
Nothing.

She places a record on the victrola.

ROSA
I raised you. I know you. Your
eyes say something else.

ERNIE
Would Carmela forgive me, if...?

ROSA
If?

He looks toward the victrola as she cranks it.

ERNIE
I intended to wait until more time had
passed, if ever at all. I don't know...

He glances to the sound of the song.

ROSA
Father taught me to tango to this one.

She lets the music set a tone between them.

ROSA
You deserve happiness. Carmela
would've insisted that you move on.

He considers her words as the wind blends with the song.

ROSA
And she's dead. It's tragic, it
always is, but it's done.

ERNIE
I thought I must honor her memory.

ROSA
At this point, it's self-pity,
not grief, that you honor.

He picks up another photo of grandfather and a different woman.

ROSA
If you're seeking my blessing I
approve. If Carmela's, don't.

She gathers herself to descend the attic stairs.

ROSA
Dinner is ready, your nieces are waiting.

He nods, eyes to the photo, focused on the woman's face. He squints to study her features, wind shaking the rafters overhead.

INT. RAUL'S DANCE STUDIO, HIS OFFICE - DAY

Raul and Miriam converse animatedly in Spanish. He sips coffee.

An old, ragged playbill with Raul and Miriam as leads for Tango de los Muertos leans against the wall.

MIRIAM
Maybe it's time we find a new home.

RAUL
Is it José?

MIRIAM
I don't know, maybe. I saw you with
a new one last night.

RAUL
Jealous?

MIRIAM
You know I'm not. Just asking if
it's wise.

RAUL
Why won't you love?

She lowers the victrola arm to one of the old records.

MIRIAM
How is it
you shed them so easily?

She sits, he walks behind her to massage her shoulders.

RAUL
Should we have tried harder?

MIRIAM
We had our time. Affection is a
better lover for us.

He kisses her hair.

RAUL
Does he still haunt you?

She glances to the music.

MIRIAM
This was his favorite. Do you wonder
who made the right decision?

RAUL
He went there. Fate led us here.

MIRIAM
But to continue it?

Contessa enters, noting the music. She steps to Miriam's side.

CONTESSA
The old days. You're sentimental fools.

Miriam strokes her hand with affection.

RAUL
Yes, and the same old philosophical
discussion we've had for years.

Contessa strokes Miriam's hair.


CONTESSA
Time will sort this all out, Miriam.
You see what happened to José.

She ticks names off three fingers.

CONTESSA
And the others. You can always quit.

MIRIAM
I don't mean it that way. It's
about Love, the loss of it.

The music skips a beat, finding a scratch on the record.

CONTESSA
You say Love is eternal, only the
lovers die.

Anyway, that is the price.

MIRIAM
In our youth it was priceless,
now costly beyond measure.

RAUL
Well, we have each other.

MIRIAM
For how long?

She looks to the old playbill.

MIRIAM
I want to give the world something.
A gift of our pain.

Contessa also eyes the playbill.

MIRIAM
I will resurrect Tango de los Muertos.

RAUL
It's best left in the past.

MIRIAM
The same could be said of us. Yet
we're here.

Contessa arches those elegant eyebrows.

CONTESSA
Resurrection? It's only fitting
that the dead would dance.

MIRIAM
There will be a Tango de los Muertos

Raul, outnumbered, can only glance to each woman.

INT. RAUL'S DANCE STUDIO - DAY

Miriam directs rehearsal with a dozen DANCERS. Ernie ascends the stairs to the studio. She eyes him in the mirror, but subtly ignores him. Ernie steps into Raul's empty office.

INSIDE RAUL'S OFFICE

Miriam stops at the door to watch Ernie examine the playbill. He notes her presence and they eye each other cat-like, neither breaking the silence. Finally,

ERNIE
Looking for Raul.

MIRIAM
Out.

ERNIE
Had a few more questions about José.

He motions to the playbill.

ERNIE
You?

MIRIAM
It was long ago.

He cocks his head at Miriam's image in the playbill.

ERNIE
You haven't aged a day.

MIRIAM
What do you mean?

ERNIE
You're just as beautiful.

She raises an eyebrow before narrowing her eyes. Indicating his black T-shirt.

MIRIAM
What do you wear besides that?

ERNIE
I have a white one.

She measures him with her eyes.

MIRIAM
I must get back to work.

She rejoins the dancers, barking instructions. Ernie watches for a moment then steps out to the floor.

ON THE DANCE FLOOR

Ernie watches off to the side. Miriam ignores him as she guides the dancers. She casts the male lead aside in disgust.

MIRIAM
No, it's like this.

She demonstrates a sequence which brings her close to Ernie, who stands frozen.

MIRIAM
(to the dancers)
Then like this.

She moves in a circle, using Ernie as a prop, her movements sinewy, seductive, her arms nearly brushing his body.

The dancers note the interplay and glance to each, puzzled. She stops and only then finds Ernie's eyes.

ERNIE
Just had one more question.

She moves away from him to re-engage the dancers.

ERNIE
This Saturday afternoon.

She continues her work with the dancers, again ignoring him.

MIRIAM
Yes?

The dancers glance from her to him.

ERNIE
A family event.

She moves toward him again, the dance has become just them. He spins to keep facing her, heart facing heart.

ERNIE
I thought you might like to come.

MIRIAM
And why might I?

ERNIE
Traditional Spanish reunion.
Argentine actually.

Her eyebrows note the word.

MIRIAM
And what would you know of that?

ERNIE
Not me, my mother.

MIRIAM
¿Su madre?

ERNIE
You might share something in common
of Buenos Aires.

She dances unresponsive.

ERNIE
If you're busy I understand. It was
just a thought.

He disengages and steps toward the stairs.

MIRIAM
Mi caballero.

Ernie stops dead, his back to Miriam.

ERNIE
I thought I was gringo?

MIRIAM
You're still gringo.

He glances to her in the wall mirror, where they lock gaze.

MIRIAM
Pick me up here.