Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
Nominated for Best Documentary at the upcoming 84th Academy Awards, Pina comes from director Wim Wenders and pays tribute to the late dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch, who passed away in 2009. However, maybe it shouldn’t have been nominated. Not because it isn’t good, but because to call this a documentary is a bit misleading.
If you thought you were going to learn about Pina, where she came from, how she got into dance, the trajectory of her career – well, you’re out of luck. The film would more accurately be described as a love letter to Bausch, a fond farewell to a woman who meant so much to her dance company and to those who followed the art form. In fact, you’re likely to exit the theater with more questions about her than when you entered.
Instead of the normal talking heads and heaps of archival footage, the film is comprised of some of Pina’s most notable choreographed compositions, performed by members of her company (with some archival footage thrown in for good measure). They also add in some pieces of their own, inspired by their time with her. The result is an excellent collection of dance sequences, made even more transfixing because of the sets, cinematography and 3D.
That’s right, I said 3D. This is one of the very, very, VERY few films I’d say absolutely should be seen in 3D on the big screen. This isn’t about gimmicky objects being thrown at the camera, Wenders actually utilized the technology how it’s supposed to work, by creating depth of field and truly placing the audience in front of a performance. (The faux theater shell and seats used to sell this point are a bit hokey at times but for 3D this good, I can let it go.)
As mentioned, also working in the film’s benefit are amazing sets and excellent cinematography. And when I say “sets”, I don’t just mean some of the remarkable indoor playgrounds created for the dancers, I also mean some outdoor locations that are breathtaking; reflecting the balance between man and nature, such as a gorgeous lake location, a glass house that looks out onto a lush forest, an excavation site, even a city street somehow seems magical when presented alongside the dancers and their performances.
Everything is shot with extreme attention to detail, lighting, and composition; Germany may have nominated this for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (yet another indicator this is something other than a documentary) but if there was a place this truly was robbed, it was Hélène Louvart’s efforts as cinematographer. This is second only to Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Tree of Life.
Now, of course, because I’m a jaded, bitter film critic, I can find a fault. The opening 30 minutes or so seem to drag quite a bit. Part of this is due to the more dynamic dance elements taking place in the latter half of the movie, another is not knowing what to expect when I entered the theater. I prefer not to watch trailers, or get too much info on anything I’m going to review so as to minimize any preconceived notions. I did know this was nominated and billed as a documentary, so I was expecting to learn about Pina through recollections from friends, family and fellow dancers. Learning only about the inspiration she provided and a measure of the emotion her company still feels for her, it took some time before I adjusted to Wenders’ approach.
That being said, if you are a fan of contemporary dance, this is your can’t miss movie of the year (2011 or 2012, depending on how you look at it). The technical elements are handled brilliantly, the dance is spectacular, and the measured exhilaration one feels upon exiting the theater is the kind of stuff that doesn’t come along all that often. Pina ends up more as a performance captured on film than a documentary but the end result is so satisfying that worrying about what label to put on it defeats the purpose. It’s an excellent movie, what more does one really need to say?
Pina is rated PG for some sensuality/partial nudity and smoking.