Pina, Germany’s entry for best foreign film and best documentary at the 2012 Academy Awards, “explores a world where the deepest, most primal urges of the subconscious surface in a form of physical expression of which most are unaware,” writes Kristy Hutter.
Like the art form itself, Pina does not need narrative accompaniment, just an audience willing to find deeper meaning in the entanglement of bodies put up against a backdrop of breathtaking landscapes and bizarre concepts.
The unconventional documentary was initially meant to showcase the life and times of modern dance pioneer and choreographer Pina Bausch, who died unexpectedly right before filming was about to begin. After being urged by Bausch’s bereaved dance company to continue with the project, director Wim Wenders changed courses and redesigned the film as a dedication to the revered artist. The result is two hours of mind-blowing art, a cinematic masterpiece that breaks the mould of traditional documentary filmmaking.
The film (theatrically shown in 3D) is centered around four of Bausch’s dance pieces: Le Sacre de Printemps, a dark tale of a girl who dances herself to death; Café Muller, a painful depiction of the lives of tortured souls who wander around a café, bereft of direction; Kontakthof, a colourful, yet minimalist representation of human contact and relationships; and Full Moon, an energetic account of instinct and loneliness. Of course these interpretations are worth debating, like all analyses are, but each piece elicits certain emotions from the audience – reactions intended by the choreographer.
Interspersed between the four ballets are short performances danced by members of Bausch’s company, Tanztheater Wuppertal. Each introduces his or her piece with a brief memory of life under her tutelage. The company’s voice is an eclectic, yet beautiful mix of exotic languages, further proof that professional dancers came from far and wide to dance for and learn from Bausch. These interludes are what make the film a true dedication, students expressing small acts of creative appreciation for their teacher.
Indeed, the clips are a portrayal of Bausch’s twisted state of mind: fantastical, dramatic, and thought provoking – they extend the boundaries of dance, blending movement with emotion. In one scene, a company member covers her feet in veal cutlets, slips on a pair of Pointe shoes and flutters on her toes for an agonizing five minutes in what appears to be an industrial manufacturing yard. In another, a dancer enters a monorail car wrapped in a sheet, screaming and struggling to make it to her seat, and when she finally does, she sits down serenely in front of an unflinching man sporting pretend elf ears. Each scene is eccentric and the audience can only guess what they symbolize.
In essence, Pina is a work of cinematic beauty from which, frankly, you don’t learn much – at least explicitly. After a while, the viewer finally gets the sense that an aging dance company is paying tribute to their beloved teacher. But facts and plot content are not at the centre of this documentary; a reconnaissance of the aesthetic is. And Wenders is successful at what he has done – that is, generating a framework for ideas that simply cannot be expressed with words and creating a multitude of stages on which intimate musings can be showcased.
Pina is a far cry from conventional doc making, but it is still real, even though it seems like something straight out of a dream or fantasy.