Directed By: Wim Wenders.
I am not a big fan of dance, and unlike other critics who tell you that it in a movie like Pina you don’t need to be a fan of dance to appreciate the movie, I’m not going to say that. It would certainly help to know something about dance walking into Wim Wenders’ new dance documentary that is really a tribute to German choreographer Pina Bausch. She was supposed to collaborate with Wenders on this documentary, but suddenly died a few days before shooting was supposed to begin. So instead of a simple dance documentary, what Pina really is an elegy to Wenders’ friend. Not only do we get to see her stock company deliver four of her most famous routines (not in their entirety, but close to it) the film also gives her closer collaborators a chance to pay tribute to her – by speaking about their feelings for her, and by giving small snippets of their own favourite Pina dances, sprinkled throughout the movie. For fans of dance, Pina will likely be one of their favourite films of the year. For someone like me, whose knowledge of dance is limited to what I have picked up on So You Think You Can Dance over the years, the result was more scattershot. Yes, the film looks amazing from start to finish, and the dance numbers do have a hypnotic power to them in their best moments. But I never quite feel in love with any of them, and not knowing who Pina Bausch was walking into the theatre, I could not share the participant’s feelings for her. I felt kept at an arm’s length from much of the proceedings.
The dancing in Pina is terrific. There is no denying that, even if I don’t understand it on a deeper level like some do. All I can do is watch the movement on display, and be mesmerized. The first dance sequence is probably my favourite – there is primal rhythm on display, and the movement matches that, and seethes with sexuality. It gets Pina off on a high note – and one I don’t think it will quite match again, despite how good the other three massive dance numbers are. Again, I don’t know much about dance, but I know what I like – and I liked most of what was on display in this film.
I also enjoyed the little asides – the small snippets of other Pina dances that are sprinkled throughout the movie that take place outside, in a field, on a mountain, in a greenhouse, on the streets, or wherever the dancers felt best captured their feel. These are smaller – mostly just one or two people, and give you an intimacy that the larger numbers do not have. By displaying both, I think Wenders goal was to capture Pina on both a large and small scale.
The spoken tributes in Pina are what didn’t really work for me. Wenders plays these tributes as voiceovers, and shoots the speaker simply sitting looking into the camera. I’m sure to some this will work, but again I didn’t know Pina Bausch before I saw this movie, or her work. The movie itself only provides a few brief moments of footage of her – not nearly enough to get to know her. So while you feel their grief is genuine, it also holds you outside of it – as if you’re looking at a moment you shouldn’t be looking at. I couldn’t feel their grief the same way they did – or really on any real level.
For those who love dance, I think Pina will be one of their favourite films of 2011. It is at times thrilling to see these dancers work at the top of their game, and I have feeling they’ll appreciate things on a higher level than I did. For me, as much as I admired Pina, I was never truly involved with it. It is a visual masterwork, and on that level, it should be seen by anyone who has the slightest interest in it. But as an emotional experience, Pina left me cold.