I watched this film last weekend. I’m still having difficulty formulating what I want to say about it.
I’ll start with some context. Wim Wenders was working with Pina Bausch on a documentary about her life when she suddenly died. The intended film was replaced with a new vision for a moving tribute by her company, who perform several of her most celebrated pieces and talk about their experience with her. This collaboration produced a masterpiece that works on so many levels.
Dance on film has been done very well, (especially in classics) and done very poorly (although I still love the cheesybad ones). I don’t think I’ve seen anything on film that approaches the level of cinematography and theatricality that Wim Wenders accomplishes directing dance in “Pina.” It’s fucking astounding. These dancers are not on display. There is nothing passive about this. Film as a medium is choreographed here, into the pieces themselves. It’s transformative.
Now that I’ve gotten the technical aspects out of the way (ha!), can we talk about my feelings? One of the company members recounts Pina telling her that her fragility is her strength. This could be a metaphor for the entire film as Pina’s pieces constantly play with trust and intimacy issues. Age, gender, and body image, as well as physical connection, are present issues in almost every piece, but not in any overarching distracting ways that leave the viewer attempting to “figure out what it’s saying”. It just flows. It’s just real.
Elements and energy are huge factors as well with dancing in water and dirt, on public transportation, at commercial intersections, in (literal) glass houses – this would be gimmicky it if wasn’t so visceral and blunt. The settings anchor the movement, which is so much about bodies, not at all pageantry. The diversity of this company is also striking. You see dancers in this film that you don’t commonly see in mainstream American companies – older dancers (over 40!), people of color, of many different ethnicity and speaking their native languages. You see intense vulnerability with male dancers, dancing with each other, as partners, which is so rarely done that it sometimes seems downright profound.
There is a weight to what they are doing, emotional and physically heavy. Again, this is the depth in displaying fragility. These dancers DIG IN. Their bodies are all in, in a way that seems to be a direct subversion of showy, airy, “proper” prettiness that popular convention likes to demand that dancers display. Have you ever watched a tiny ballerina produce exacting, perfect movements, just wanting her to just do something crazy? Sometimes I think it’s painful knowing there is a powerhouse beneath, that this body has incredible strength and gives excruciating effort to produce the appearance of tidiness andweightlessness. It can be lovely, but I also kind of hate that. I find it boring. It is fucking delightful to watch dancers break that convention into pieces and this company brought it to a level that I haven’t seen in a while.
For me, almost any art is more fun when the artist has shown their work somehow. Watching this film you hear the dancers thanking Pina over and over for pulling at their fragility, fears and vulnerabilities. And then you watch them pay tribute with their entire bodies and selves. It’s breathtaking.
One company member notes that Pina danced as if she had a hole in her belly. That line is what I think about when I can’t stop thinking (feeling) about this film.
More of that.
Visit the official site for the film here. (Watch the trailer!) Pina is currently streaming on Netflix if you have a subscription, but it was also recently added to the Criterion collection and is available on DVD. Find a way to see this film!