January 17, 2012

MOVIES: Pina (Wim Wenders, 2011)

Pina is a likely Best Documentary Oscar nominee this year, and has an outside shot at also being nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. It's about the work of choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, shortly after filming began.

What Pina does -- almost the only thing it does -- is show us Bausch's dances. Four of them are presented, not quite in full, but in substantial excerpts, and there are interludes filmed in the public spaces of Wuppertal, Germany (where her company is based) with her dancers doing brief passages from other dances.

We get occasional talking-head commentary from Bausch's dancers and colleagues; Wenders chooses to present them sitting in front of a dark screen, not actually speaking, as we listen to their pre-recorded comments. But if you don't know anything about Bausch, you won't learn it from those commenters, because the movie isn't interested in giving you the facts. We don't learn how long she's been doing this, why she's considered an important figure, or what differentiates her work from that of her peers.

I found that frustrating, because I know nothing about modern dance, and I would have enjoyed some background or historical context useful. I liked watching the dance, but I'd have enjoyed it more if I'd been given some understanding of what I was seeing.

The things that did strike me as (maybe?) unusual were that Bausch doesn't retire her dancers the second they stop being young and pretty; one of the major works we see, in fact, is specifically for dancers over 65. (At least, one version of it is; there's a second version for teenagers, and the film cuts back and forth between the two.)

She also seems to like to put lots of stuff on the stage. Her dance to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring requires that the stage be covered in several inches of dirt; Vollmond fills half the stage with a giant rock, behind which is a waterfall; and Cafe Mueller clutters the stage with chairs and tables.

If you enjoy modern dance, you'll surely enjoy Pina, even though you'll be frustrated by the fact that it's all visuals and no information; if you know enough about it to know why Pina Bausch matters, you'll probably enjoy it even more.

No comments: