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'Pina' - A film by Wim Wenders

reviewed by David Mead

May 2011

When Pina Bausch died suddenly in 2009, a gaping hole was left in the contemporary dance scene.  She was undoubtedly an icon of contemporary dance who left her mark and influenced other artists in many ways. Before she died plans were laid with iconic German film-maker and long time friend Wim Wenders for a collaborative film about her work.

In a moving speech before the preview, Wenders explained how he was deeply impressed and moved when in 1985 he saw “Café Müller” for the first time. Although he and Bausch had talked about making a film for a long time, Wenders always felt the limited possibilities of the screen meant he could not do the subject the justice it deserved. He finally found his solution in 2008 when he saw Irish rock band U2’s film “U2-3D” in Cannes in 2008.

Plans were laid, detail discussed, and together with Wenders, Bausch selected “Café Müller”, “The
Rite of Spring”, “Vollmond” and “Kontakthof” as the centrepieces for the film, and added them to the company’s 2009/2010 season. Then, just days before she was due to see his ideas on screen, she died. Wenders’ said his immediate reaction was to ditch the project. But, he went on, the courage of the dancers in dealing with her passing made him realise that calling it off was the wrong thing to do, and just a few weeks later work started on the four pieces chosen.

Wenders describes it as “a film for Pina not a film about Pina.” And that is true. It is not a documentary. It is not a history. It is not a biography. Bausch remains an enigma wrapped up in mystery. Nothing is said about her personal life, background or motivation. Save for a few snippets from the dancers little is revealed about her methods. It is, though, a wonderful celebration of an incredible choreographer’s work. And it is Bausch the dance choreographer, rather than Bausch the dance-theatre director that Wenders majors on.

There is plenty of archive footage but the principal scenes are newly filmed in 3D. There are some very exciting moments, most notably during an excerpt from “Vollmond” when I’ll swear half the audience was ducking the water apparently being sprayed in their direction, but Wenders largely avoids the usual Hollywood action blockbuster or fantasy 3D effect of making characters leap out at you. His approach is rather the use the technology to make the dancers stand out and give the film adepth that would otherwise be lacking.

Wenders gets over the problem of Bausch’s dance being stage bound by filming several sequences in unusual or surreal situations including on Wuppertaal’s famous Schwebebahn monorail, in a school gym and a public swimming pool; outdoors on a traffic island with cares and buses gliding past, in woodland and gardens, and atop a steep sided quarry. By taking the dance away from the theatre context Wenders emphasises the point that this is not simply filmed dance theatre or a regular documentary. In many ways it also reflects Bausch’s approach on stage.

Aspects of the film will irritate some. There is frequent cutting between a dancer speaking and performance, and those unfamiliar with her work and company will find the lack of naming of dancers or choreography quite frustrating. Only one title, “Café Müller”, is even mentioned in passing conversation.

“Pina” is, though utterly beguiling. Right from the start it grabs your heart and mind and never lets go. It is beautiful and, at times, quite moving. She may no longer be with us in body, but Bausch’s spirit looms over a film that is a must for dance fans everywhere.

Speaking in 2002, Bausch said, “I loved to dance because I was scared to speak. When I was moving, I could feel.” If you are a dance lover I guarantee the film will make you feel too. Do not miss it.

“Pina” is already on release in France and Switzerland. Forthcoming release dates announced are:
UK: April 22, 2011
Belgium: 4 May 2011
Netherlands: 4 May 2011
Luxembourg: 4 May 2011

www.pina-film.de

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