I am increasingly of the opinion that film critics review far too many films. This is a film, you write about films, therefore you are qualified to write about this film. And besides we can’t find anyone else to do it…
I am in no way qualified to write about “Pina” (2011). The fact that I never heard of dance choreographer Pina Bausch is the first clue. But then again one of the great pleasures of documentary is learning about people and subjects we know nothing about, and director Wim Wenders has structured his movie in part to answer the question, “Who was Pina?”
Though Wenders lets some of Bausch’s collaborators address the question, it’s clear that he believes the answer can only be found in her work, and it is here that it is readily apparent to me that I am a stranger in a strange land. “Pina” includes performances of several of Bausch’s signature works and as beautifully staged as many of them are, I’m forced to admit that I understand virtually nothing about her brand of dance theater and that I also don’t find it particularly appealing.
My first impression is that stasis was every bit as important to her as motion. Many of the dancers hold still (some even sitting or lying down) or pull their arms and hands in close to their bodies, tracing tiny circles and only seldom cutting loose to hurtle through space. That, I dig. My second impression is one of very gaunt women who repeatedly fall down, and this I don’t get at all. It’s as if the etiolated performers have been sapped of all but their last remnants of energy and can only stumble around, eyes closed or half-open, constantly collapsing and needing to be supported by their fellow dancers as they fall again and yet again.
Wenders allows the work speak for itself, but I don’t feel any more informed after more than a hour and a half of exposure to it all. I’m not certain if this reveals only my own limitations (probably the case), or if it suggests that the film is pitched to a narrower audience.
If the latter is true, it’s hardly a fault. The most lingering impression of all from the movie is that of a troupe of dedicated dancers (of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch) who truly love and miss their recently departed mentor. Bausch, who directed the theater for forty years, died suddenly in 2009, just a few days before filming began, a cruel irony for a project that was in some stage of planning for nearly a quarter century, from the first time Wenders encountered Bausch’s work and was moved to tears by it.
He was never quite able to figure out a way to do justice to the dynamic performances until 3D re-emerged as a viable technical and commercial option several years ago. Wenders believed it was the only way to capture the sense of space that was essential to Bausch’s work, and here is yet one more reason I must question my qualifications to assess the film. Though Criterion has included a 3D Blu-ray (their first ever), I do not have a 3D capable television or player, so I have only experienced the film in the two dimensions Wenders didn’t feel were adequate.
It’s not just the dancers whose love shines through. Wenders was tempted to halt filming after Bausch’s death, but soldiered ahead as a way to pay tribute to both a talented artist and a friend. The film opens with the words “For Pina. By all of us who made this film together.” I don’t have to understand her work to be moved by the affection on display.
The film includes performances by the Tanztheater group of several of Bausch’s choreographed works, most prominently “ Cafe Muller,” “Le sacre du printemps,” and “Kontakthof.”
The film is presented in its 1.85:1 theatrical ratio (1920×1038), ever so slightly different from its original high-definition image (1920×1080). “Pina” was shot in 3D, and Criterion has included both a 3D version and a 2D version, each on separate discs. Since virtually nobody has a 3D capable high-def TV or Blu-ray player, the 3D disc will have to be on that gets filed away for the future.
The 2D represents a required compromise from the original image. According to the Criterion booklet, “ The 2D version of the 3D film was created as the best-eye version, using a careful selection of shots from either the left or the right eye.”
The high-def 2D image is incredibly sharp, almost unnaturally so at times, providing a hyper-real look to the sometimes surrealistic sets. The colors are rich and occasionally eye-popping. Of course there’s no fair way to evaluate the look of the film in 2D, but what we get is quite impressive.
The Blu-ray is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Wenders employs an unusual trick by filming people like typical talking heads, but not letting them actually speak on camera. Dialogue comes instead from a disembodied off-screen space. It’s all clearly recorded here. The main audio element is the music, a combination of original score by Thom Hanreich and other 20th century pieces. The music sounds rich and provides an immersive but unobtrusive experience. Optional English subtitles are provided except for the limited English dialogue which gets no subtitles.
The film is accompanied by a full-length audio commentary by Wim Wenders, recorded in 2011.
“The Making of ‘Pina’” is a 45-minute documentary narrated by Wenders and featuring behind-the-scenes footage as well as a recounting of the lengthy planning of the film.
The Blu-ray includes 14 Deleted Scenes which can be played with optional commentary by Wenders. The Scenes cannot be played as one piece and must be accessed individually, which is rather annoying. I’m not sure of the exact total running length but the scenes after a couple minutes apiece. We also get five snippets of Behind-the-Scenes footage, 8 minutes total.
There is also a promotional interview with Wenders (22 min.) as well as a Theatrical Trailer (2 min.)
The 36-page insert booklet includes an essay by author Siri Hustvedt, a statement by Pina Baush on her work taken from a talk at the 2007 Kyoto Prize Workshop in Arts and Philosophy, a guide to the dances and dancers (with headshots) in the documentary, and a brief excerpt from a 2008 Wenders’ tribute to Pina Bausch.
I understand why Wenders wanted to provide a minimum of interpretation and leave this as a primarily aesthetic experience. I felt frustrated at not finding the performances as accessible as those on Criterion’s other major dance entry, “Martha Graham on Film,” and I imagine the film would look a lot more impressive as a 3D experience on a big screen. Regardless, it’s difficult to envision a more heartfelt tribute to an artist.