Below is my attempt at reviewing Wim Wenders’ PINA. Reviewing a film by a genius about another genius was definitely no easy task. But one things for sure, this movie made me love the art of Dancing even more…
Director: Wim Wenders
Genre: Documentary/Musical Running Time: 106 mins
No better fitting tribute could have been given to Phillipina ‘Pina’ Bausch’s contribution to dance than Wim Wenders’ eponymous documentary film PINA done in honour of the acclaimed German choreographer.
The documentary cum musical, shot in 3D, was screened at the Silverbird Galleria on December 10 as part of the monthly iREP/Goethe film screening collaboration. Though the Lagos screening was not in 3D, it didn’t make Wenders’ picture a less fantastic piece of art about another type of art.
The film opens indoors; on stage to a performance by the Tanztheater Wuppertal -Pina’s longstanding dance company- with a female dancer expressing the effects of Winter, Spring, Autumn and Summer. Her performance heralds the entrance of the members in a similar gesture.
Most of the opening action takes place indoors on the stage with replications of some of Pina’s creations: Le Sacre du Printemps, Café Mueller, Kontakthof and Full Moon. A 1985 performance of Café Mueller led to the friendship between Wenders and Bausch, a friendship that would also inspire the making of the filmic tribute to Pina. Bausch would however pass on in 2009 before the film was completed.
Most of Bausch’s pieces deal with life, especially its painful conditions and unanswered questions. One of the most thrilling moments comes in Full Moon, when the actors start something similar to a water fight, drenching each other in bucket-loads of water. There is apparent ‘joy’ in this scene; even if the full moon might be responsible for this childish behaviour by grown-ups.
For a film with more dance than speech, Wenders –a genius in his own right- succeeds in making PINA unexpectedly enthralling. To paraphrase Bausch, there are times when words are not just enough to evoke the appropriate feelings, especially in situations that render you “utterly speechless.” In such conditions, dance comes to the rescue as we see in the film’s 106 minutes.
The indoor sequences at the same time allow the audience close in on the players’ space as occurs in film, while also maintaining the alienation effect that reminds us that live theatre while it is life, is merely a representation.
As the itch for some outdoor action deepens, the audience finally follows the actors out of the Theatre as they pay individual tributes to Bausch with varying performances in the woods, by a refinery, in a tunnel, by the roadside and on an escalator amongst other interesting choices of external space. With the most flexible and gracious of movements, the actors, regardless of age pay homage to Pina through a binding factor: dance.
But Wenders’ PINA is not just dance. Apart from the original selections, the use of music (and sound) in the performers’ tributes is as emotive as the movementS. But beating the music to second place is the actors themselves, who comprise the Tanztheater’s ensemble.
Over many years, Bausch assembled a number of performers: male, female, young, old and from numerous nationalities. The actors take the viewer on an insightful trip into and through Pina Bausch’s choreography with their endless praise for her talent and approach to working with her troupe.
These performers through movement and their spoken tributes to the late choreographer concoct a larger than life image of Bausch easily leading one to believe that Pina was no ordinary human: it is one of the uncanny reciprocities Bausch shared with her dancers. “You always felt more than just human working with Pina…,” one dancer says. Another believes that there is either a bit of Pina in all of them or a bit of all of them in Pina.
All are unequivocal on her ability to bring out the best in them. “Pina was a painter,” says one of the older male performers, equating Pina’s dancers to the paint with which she created those lasting movements that have outlived her.
Another said, “Meeting Pina was like finding a language,” resulting in her ability to effectively express herself through dance. For one of Bausch’s French dancers, Pina was a bundle of unending talent, “I imagine her like a house, with an attic full of treasures.”
It is not hard to believe. Especially with footage of Pina in action infused into the documentary’s sequence. “She saw everything even with closed eyes,” said another of the younger performers, corroborating Bausch’s own suggestion that it hardly affects the resulting performance, whether or not her eyes are closed.
“I wanted her to dance forever,” admits one of her performers, who initially had not wanted to feature in the popular Café Mueller, “she moved as if she had a hole in her tummy as if she’d risen from the dead.” Many might wish Pina Bausch resurrects after seeing this film.
One of the most interesting dance tributes however came from one female performer, who while skipping through the woods kept toppling chair after chair. It was her way of imagining Pina Bausch in the afterlife, still dancing but above all free.
The film ends as it begins with the actors in their representation of the four seasons and a message from Bausch herself: “Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost.”
Whether or not Pina rises from the dead, her legacy lives on in Wenders’ film and through the Tanztheater Wuppertal ensemble.
PINA produced by Wenders’ Neue Road Movies started off the year with a well-received premiere at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival. It seems set to continue on a roll as it has already been nominated in two categories of the 2012 Academy Awards: Best Foreign Language Film and Best Documentary.
*As published in the Daily Independent on Saturday, Dec ember 24, 2011