Pina is one of those rare films that comes along and is somehow able to transcend its perceived genre trappings. A 3D dance documentary with almost no on-screen dialogue. A description like that sells this film far short. Pina is the latest film from restless German director Wim Wenders, known for Paris, Texas (1984), Faraway, So Close! (1993) (as well as the video for the U2 song that accompanied the film), and the 1999 film Buena Vista Social Club, which documented Ry Cooder’s valiant efforts to reunite and revive the careers of aging Cuban musicians.
This film is Wenders’ love song and elegy for Pina Bausch, the renowned modern dance choreographer. Though classified as a documentary (it’s just been nominated for the Doc Oscar), it is as much a cinematic recreation of Pina’s work as it is a retrospective look at her life and her art. The film presents a series of dance vignettes performed by Pina’s students from Tanztheater Wuppertal, interviews with the students as they remember their teacher, and archival footage of Pina herself dancing. And though by nature the film is surreal and episodic, Wenders is able to weave, if not linearity, then at least a sense of progression into the film.
As always, Wenders’ visuals are spectacular, but here they take absolute precedence — the sheer aesthetics of Pina are alone worth the price of the 3D ticket. The human form — all shapes, sizes, ages, colors — is so wondrously and lovingly displayed.
But not only is the dance beautiful to watch, it is saturated with emotion. Nearly every moment aches with meaning. There is frailty, fear, blood, lust, longing, joy, control, balance, defiance — life itself is thrust from the screen.
It is at once contrived and natural. Stage sets and locations serve each piece as necessary. In a highly-stylized stage set, a woman struggles against the ropes that hold her back. A young man dances recklessly on the edge of a strip mine. A couple’s romance plays out in an industrial urban playground beneath the Wuppertal monorail.
The soundtrack, provided by Thom Hanreich and Jun Miyake (among others), is indispensable, accentuating the movement of the dancers, heightening emotions, swelling to exuberance and fading to silence when necessary.
Only occasionally do the more surrealist moments alienate the viewer from the immediacy of the film. But perhaps the unabashed moments of silliness or just-plain-weird-ness represent nothing more academic than the fact that sometimes it’s just fun to be kooky.
I feel like if I don’t learn to dance now, I’ll be failing life.
Verdict: Life is too important to be taken seriously. So even if you can’t, dance.
Medium: Park Theatre, Vancouver. 3D. 1st viewing.
Rating: 4.5 stars.