tongue-tied lightning

The Best Films of 2011: #10 Pina

I feel like it’s possible I’m overrating this film slightly because the profound effect it had on me is more a product of Pina Bausch’s choreography than Wim Wender’s filmmaking (and in fact I question a few of his decisions). I approached the film with a bit of trepidation, because I had convinced myself that I wasn’t a fan of dance. I enjoy dancing, don’t get me wrong, but I was under the impression that this was a film about a ballet company and my previous exposure to ballet had left me bored and unengaged. I took this feeling into the film and it wasn’t until the second segment, “Cafe Mueller”, that I completely let go of it, becoming fascinated by the choreography and deeply moved by the performances of the dancers. After I saw the film I read an interview with Wenders (on AVClub I believe) where he claimed to have shared my preconceptions about dance until a girlfriend drug him to a performance of “Cafe Mueller” and “Le Sacre du Printemps” (also in the film) in the 80s, which left him in tears.

The sole problem I have with his approach to the material isn’t easily rectifiable. The pieces are too long to be shown in their entirety (the final piece, “Vollmond”, runs 150 minutes with an intermission), so he chooses to cut to dancers performing bits of Bausch’s choreography in public and cut back in at a later point in the piece. These inserts are valuable in their own right, but they occasionally have a disruptive effect on the perfection of Bausch’s pieces. Which isn’t to downplay how well Wenders captures what is special about these pieces. It’s one of two 2011 films, the other being Cave of Forgotten Dreams, that I deeply regret not going out of my way to see in 3D. A regret I’ve never felt watching other such films in two dimensions.

The film is lent an elegaic tone by the untimely passing of Pina Bausch. Wenders has included “talking heads” with each of Tanztheater Wuppertal’s dancers commenting on Bausch’s methods and the influence she had on them. Talking heads is in quotes because Wenders films them looking upon the camera in silence, we hear their comments on the soundtrack over their faces but do not see them speak. It’s a subtle but unique touch that adds a note of sadness to the film. If the third piece didn’t move me as greatly as the first two, I do think Wenders saved the best piece for last. “Vollmond” is certainly the most bombastic, as the stage floods and dancers fling buckets of water, streams trailing from their feet as they leap into the air. I can only hope that an eventual DVD release will preserve Wenders’ recordings of these pieces in their entirety and that some day I’m lucky enough to witness a performance of “Cafe Mueller” or “Vollmond” in person. The film as it stands is still a remarkable achievement in its own right, it’s just that Wenders’ cinema is overshadowed by the genius of what he’s preserving.


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I’d never even heard of this film until I read your post. I shall find a copy and give it a try!

Comment by The Dandy Lion

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