Pina (2011)

Directed by Wim Wenders

Who is Pina Bausch? I don’t know Pina Bausch, and I expect that the very vast majority of the population of the world and certainly of America probably do not know who Pina Bausch is. The simple answer is that she was a German choreographer, but this is not a simple film nor is it a simple perspective on who she was. Wim Wenders is a famed German filmmaker with such films as Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire under his belt, not to mention another Academy Award nominated documentary, Buena Vista Social Club. What do I care about dance though? How good and entertaining could this film really be if it is about something and someone I know nothing about and have very little interest in? Well, Wenders makes it so I don’t have to care about dance to be fully engulfed in it anyway.

This is not your typical documentary, not because it is about dance but because of the structure of the film. It is a film about Pina Bausch, but really it is not. And what I mean is that it is not a biographical documentary where the story of Pina is told by those who knew her best. Rather it is the story of Pina where the story is performed in her dances by those who knew her best: the very impressive and professional dancers which were part of her company for years. The film is made up predominately of dance sequences both on the stage and out in the world in some of the strangest places, or so it seems. Only a small amount of time is spent with the dancers expressing their memories of Pina, and again in a strange way with voice overs with the dancers sitting there staring at the camera. But it works its magic nonetheless.

Everything about the film felt majestic and in ways I didn’t think were possible. It is of course shot and presented in 3D, which is a format I have dreaded since it came out with plenty of examples of it being a distraction and a gimmick. But I have to admit that here it really really works and adds to the depth of the film. And even that I don’t think does the film justice. If the film could have been a 3D scratch-n-sniff film then maybe it would have fully captured the magic that was going on, but as is it is still one of the most beautifully shot films of the year. The performances both on stage and out in the open are startling for their scope and dramatics. Each and every dancer gives a spectacular performance in the film and it really has made me appreciate movement and dance that much more.

And I think that was ultimately the objective of Wim Wenders was to bring to light the beauty of dance and his immense appreciation for one of its true geniuses. This is not really a film about Pina in that I walk away from the film not really knowing anything more about the woman than when I first walked into the theater. It is instead a moving tribute to the woman and her work. But as such, I feel like I did learn a great deal about Pina from the dances I witnessed and the brief words of remembrance spoken by her dancers. But my favorite part of the film had to be the performances which took place outside of the theater in these seemingly random locations.

I probably am too ignorant to really comprehend the significance of any of the places, and maybe they are just random places, but to me they signified the beauty of dance more effectively than anything else in the film. They take place in these great wide open places with the sky high above them because dance is such an open movement with plenty of room for interpretation and plenty of room to leave yourself completely unguarded to fully express yourself. My mind, and body, does not work in the way it takes to be a dancer, but even less so in what it takes to be a choreographer. I can’t imagine the thought process to compose some of these wildy strange, but tremendously beautiful dance sequences. But I have no problem being a witness to it, and as a performance film, this is one of my favorites and one that I would recommend to loads of people, even those who think they don’t care about dance because that was me going in to the film. I am a convert.

**** – Masterpiece

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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