REVIEW: "PINA" WIM WENDERS' DOCUMENTARY ON PINA BAUSCH2012-01-20 12:38:15 PM
By Laura Molzahn
Dance fans, you should definitely see Wim Wenders’ “Pina.” Not because it’s the best film ever made, not because it’s shot in up-to-the-minute 3D, and not even because it’s the best possible film on trail-blazing German choreographer Pina Bausch.
But because she’s dead now, having passed unexpectedly in June 2009, two days before the first 3D test shoot was scheduled. Eventually Wenders picked up the pieces --- he’d known Bausch for nearly 25 years --- and started filming in fall 2009. Her dancers were fresh from their knowledge of her and how she worked. In essence “Pina” is an irreplaceable series of snapshots of her, her dances, and her performers. The film opens today, Friday, at two theaters: River East 21 and Century 12/CineArts 6 in Evanston.
Don’t expect a traditional bio-documentary. These are indeed snapshots, and without even any scribbles on the back. There’s no information on Bausch’s life and career --- which didn’t bother me. But basic landmarks are missing, like the titles of the four dances shown: “Le Sacre du Printemps,” “Café Mueller,” “Kontakthof,” and “Vollmond,” mentioned only in passing by the many Bausch dancers who parade across the screen. Yet not one dancer is identified by name. I suspect this mushy, impressionistic pastiche of images and voices is more about Wenders’ delight in the new toy of his cinematic technology than about Bausch herself.
When Wenders spoke at the 2008 ceremony where Bausch received the Goethe Prize, he said that her dancers “moved me as I had never been moved before.” In that case, his choice to edit and chop up the dances he and Bausch jointly chose to shoot is odd. You never get a sense of the whole, ever. I’m just hoping that someday, someone will take the full-length versions of three of the dances, which Wenders reportedly shot onstage at the Wuppertal Opera House, and put them in another film or films.
I couldn’t help thinking of “Pina” as one giant missed opportunity. Most films about Bausch have been European and in languages that English-speakers don’t necessarily understand. Here the dancers’ voiceovers are either in English or translated from an impressive array of languages into English subtitles. And yet we learn so little.
About those voiceovers: way more time is devoted to the dancers, not talking, but sitting and letting their own recorded remarks wash over them than to Bausch’s dances. Same for the performers’ danced interpretations of Bausch and her work, generally solos and duets, which Wenders apparently requested.
I’m all for innovation and creativity. And these movement vignettes, often shot amid everyday life, do give the sense that Bausch’s work will live on. But their quality varies widely. Wenders could have cut one-third to one-half of them, and had plenty good ones remaining. The best are indeed good, especially at conveying Bausch’s sense of humor/horror. An older man, dressed in a tutu, plies on a railway handcar in a tunnel, deadpan. A beautiful woman in a white gown enters a tram --- and walks to her seat making mouth noises that sound like a giant tromping through quicksand.
I also came to think that NO solo, or maybe even duet, could capture the essence of Bausch’s work. Overall the pieces in “Pina” --- at least, the tidbits of them provided --- show that her art was social. What drove her was the nature of human interaction. Watching these works, I felt that she valued solos only insofar as they contributed to her picture of a community.
Famously bleak, famously cynical about male-female relations, Bausch had a point of view. She had passion and a purpose. The excerpts from her pieces we do get to see are amazing --- and who else has shot “Sacre” from the vantage point of the peat-covered floor she used?
At least Wenders presents Bausch’s dances in chronological order, with three clustered in the mid-70s and one, “Vollmond,” from 2006. And he shot “Kontakthof,” which resembles a mega-awkward middle school social dance, in the three forms that Bausch presented it: danced by her own company, by nondancers 65 and older, and by teenagers 14 and up.
The final work, “Vollmond” (“Full Moon”), to me suggested a decline in Bausch’s energy and focus --- though of course it was impossible to know, truly, without seeing the whole thing. Despite its towering boulder, slashing rain, and sloshing sea of onstage water, the often exuberant dancing seemed almost humdrum. At this point the dancers talk about the importance of “the elements” in Bausch’s work, though in the other three pieces they don’t seem so significant.
Wenders then uses this talk as the pretext for scenes shot in nature. More like avant-garde commercials or high-end YouTube videos than dance on film, these seem mostly an opportunity for the director to shoot in 3D in striking outdoor settings than a true reckoning of Bausch’s worth.