Criterion never ceases to amaze me by the types of content they put out into the market. To put this review in context, I went to see this film with no previous interest in contemporary dance. I have always put it into that category of ‘things I just don’t understand’. I understand it’s a way of communication, but it’s one that has never communicated to me. So my thoughts on this film probably won’t have any interest to you if you are already a dance fan or a dancer or a fan of Pina Bausch in particular. But if, like me, you have heard that this is a visual feast of a film, or just that it is a Wim Wenders documentary, and are wondering whether to go see it for those reasons, this might help you decide.
Pina makes me wish I knew more about dance, though I suspect not all dance and dancers are so accessible or emotionally charged, by choice. At moments I was moved nearly to tears, I wanted to answer the question Pina reportedly put often to her dancers, “what do you long for,” with the answer “beauty—and this could serve for now.” I saw this tonight at Vancouver International Film Festival in 3D on the strength of its description and Wenders being the director and I’m very glad I did. One of the hallmarks of strong cinema, for me, is an altered perception of the world when I leave the film, which sometimes lasts for a considerable time: the vision of the film awakening me to what is around me. I found tonight not only a visual but a kinaesthetic carryover as I walked to the car, drove my friend to the subway, and then drove home through streets light in traffic. Though normally I don’t care for cars or driving, in the wake of the dance spirit invoked in this film, I revelled in freedom of movement—in movement itself—at first hand in my own body and at a remove, in the things around me. This is good stuff.
Because there is no storyline in the film. Not very much of replicas either to explain in clear words why or if the different pieces are linked together, and definitely nothing to tell about Pina Bausch’s private life. But that is also what makes this film so clean and consistent; dance says it all. And they are all performed by a group of highly skillful professionals of different ages, nationalities and languages, whom sometimes, through open monologues, give us an insight on Pina’s character. Not only do they reach out to touch by movements, but also through empathy and facial expressions of compassion, making them very credible actors/actresses.
This is probably Wenders’ best in years, although I admit I’ve skipped everything he’s made since the terrible The End of Violence back in 1997. This is great, whatever the case. It’s a very unconventional documentary about choreographer Pina Bausch. Well, not really. It’s about her work. There’s almost no biographical information throughout the film. All we really learn is that she was a choreographer, and that she’s dead. I don’t even think the film mentions her surname until the credits. This is all about her work, which Wenders stages with former members of her troupe. It’s all about the dancing, and if you love dancing, well, this film is a real treat. The dancing is quite unconventional itself. Wenders own impeccable artistic integrity has produced one of the best films about dance, and one of the best documentaries ever made.