Directed by: Wim Wenders
Featuring: Regina Advento, Malou Airaudo, Ruth Amarante
Written by: Wim Wenders
Being a fan of both documentaries and the work of German filmmaker Wim Wenders, I went into Pina with the hopes that my absolute distaste for modern dance might be tempered by some great filmmaking and an interesting story. Unfortunately, as Pina’s tagline states, this is ‘a film for Pina Bausch by Wim Wenders’ and not a film for Jay Cheel. Be warned, if you don’t like modern dance or ballet, Pina might not be for you.
The film focuses on the work of its title character/subject, Pina Bausch. It seems Wenders assumes that most people watching the film might be coming in with a basic knowledge of Pina and her work. Either that or he simply doesn’t care, which is sort of respectable I suppose. I personally had no idea who she was and to be honest, I still don’t. As a portrait, the film offers little in regards to Pina as a person or the passion that drove her. What we get is various ethereal observations from the dancers she worked with and inspired in addition to a few short archival clips. The rest of the film is made up of dancing and more dancing. This is problematic for someone like myself who gets no enjoyment out of modern dance. Luckily, Pina features some gorgeous locations in which much of the dancing takes place. Whenever the routines are taken out of the theatre and into the streets of Germany, things momentarily resemble a Ron Fricke film and immediately become much more interesting and visually engaging. There’s a distinction between the energy of certain choreographed pieces in which some feel like dialogue while others are almost play out like action set pieces. Still, it’s never really as exciting as that sounds.
I find dance completely impenetrable as an art form. I understand little and relate to absolutely nothing. In fact, more often than not I am completely turned off by it. I’ll gladly admit that my lack of appreciation is in part due to the fact that I simply don’t understand it. I find it absolutely pretentious and the overly precious treatment of the subject matter by Wenders and those featured in the film doesn’t help. Even the talking heads are pretentious. The subject simply sits and stares off pensively into nothingness as an internal dialogue ruminates on various aspects of their relationship with Pina. I should clarify that I don’t think this is totally my fault. I’ve seen films about dance before and there are ways of bringing a viewer into the world and acclimatizing them to it. I enjoyed Frederick Wiseman’s La Danse, even though the performance segments were the least interesting to me. Wenders simply isn’t interested in making a recruitment film. He’s targeting those who love modern dance and that’s just fine.
Now I must give the film the benefit of the doubt seeing as I didn’t have a chance to watch it in 3D. Having been shot specifically with that format in mind, it’s clear that that’s the way in which the filmmaker’s intended it to be seen. Still, outside of giving me some additional visual stimuli throughout the runtime, I don’t think the additional dimension would’ve affected my overall feelings towards this style of dance. I’d say the highlight for me is the moment in which a dancer resembling the little girl from The Ring enters a German subway train and mimics the motions of a giant robot, providing all of the appropriate sound effects as she beats up a pillow. Meanwhile, a man in cardboard elf ears watches from the back of the train. It was an entertaining sequence for what I assume are the wrong reasons. In the end, attempting to enlighten me on the art behind some of these routines is probably as futile as attempting to convince Pina herself to embrace the artistic merits of demolition derby or professional wrestling. It just ain’t gonna happen, ya see??
For the most part, Pina looks great on blu ray. The film was shot digitally, so the high definition photography obviously benefits from this HD presentation. Any complaints I might have regarding image seem to be inherent within the original photography. There are some blown out highlights that look pretty ugly at times and a few sketchy low light sequences, but this isn’t the fault of Criterion. Sometimes the skin tones seem a bit yellow, likely due to some harsh stage lighting not playing well with the digital photography. Still, the majority of the imagery — particularly exteriors — look great. The film also includes stock footage varying in quality, but that’s never problematic for me. Unfortunately, I don’t own a 3D television so as I mentioned previously, I didn’t have the opportunity to view the film in 3D. As for special features, the disc comes with a commentary track by Wenders, The Making of ‘Pina’, deleted scenes (witch commentary), behind-the-scenes footage, and an interview with Wenders. It’s a nice package for a film that will please fans of this sort of thing. I guess it’s just too high brow for my generally low brow sensibilities. — Jay C.