Pina A Mixed Blessing on Film

 PINA (2011)
Directed by Wim Wenders
Nieue Road, 103 mins. PG
In English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Croatian (with subtitles)

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The challenge of making a documentary of an iconic figure within a small specialty is always the same. Does one aim the film at aficionados, or toward a general audience? The Pina of Wim Wenders’ latest film is dancer/ choreographer Pina Bausch. She offered still another challenge; Bausch (1940-2009) was dying when Wenders, a fan of her work, took on the project. By necessity, the project became, in Wenders’ words, a film about and for Pina.

If you are a modern dance fan, you will not need to be convinced to see this film; you already know Pina Bausch as a challenging, experimental, and creative spirit. But how does this film play for those who know little about modern dance, or those such as yours truly, who has just passing familiarity? I had never heard of her at all until about four years ago, and had never seen any of her work until it appeared on the movie screen. (I would add that the cinema was sold out, so Bausch obviously had quite a few fans!) The answer is that Wenders did some very interesting things, but non-fans are likely to share my view that the film is a mix of fascination and repetitiveness.

Since Bausch couldn’t offer much, Wenders focused on her dance company, many of whom had been with her for decades. Wenders uses two devices, the first being an opening sequence that is where mime-meets-dance. A parade of gesturing dancers takes us through the seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter, and those gesticulations reoccur throughout the film. Get the metaphor? The second technique is modified from A Chorus Line. Remember the confessionals in which each member of the troupe explains why he or she became a dancer? Wenders does something similar, though all we see are expressive faces beneath which we hear their voiceovers. Needless to say, we also see quite a few dance sequences, some of which we are supposed to recognize as classic, but one must be intimately familiar with Bausch’s repertoire to make those connections.

The film is stylish and some of the dances are spectacular, sensual, and poignant; others are clever and/or humorous. Needless to say, each of the dancers is masterful. Particularly fascinating are the pieces in which Bausch explodes our expectations of what dance is and where it should appear, as in sequences in which the urban landscape (monorails, intersections, sidewalks, gravel pits, abandoned factories) become the stage. These works blur the bpundry between guerilla theater and dance. There are also amazing pieces using on-stage water, but because Wenders doesn’t give us a lot of background we don’t really know if Bausch pioneered this, or simply riffed off others. (Water on stage isn’t all that unusual any more.)

Bausch assembled an international troupe, but whether her work is universal is an open question. As a novice and outsider, I was equally thrilled and bored by the film. Bausch definitely repeated herself, and she also dabbled in the sort of introspective choreography that sounds better as an artist’s statement than it works on the stage. I confess to having little patience for contact improv or works in which dancers dreamingly meander across our line of vision, and Bausch did a lot of that. This, of course, is a matter of taste and preference; if this is your cup of tea, fine. As a film, though, I’d say this one works about half the time. It may be that Wenders, who also wrote the screenplay, was simply too close to his subject to think beyond his camera and how the things that inspired him might look to those without insider knowledge. Unless you already know, Wenders’ film will probably strike you as impressionistic rather than revealing. --Rob Weir

PS--A 3-D version of the film is in select theaters, but mine wasn’t one of them, so I cannot comment on whether that enhances or detracts from the visuals. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw the 3D version and it was fabulous. I don't think it mkatters at all whether you are familiar with Bausch's work. Just relax and enjoy the spactacle.