Thursday, December 15, 2011


Wim Wenders does it again. Like his compatriot Werner Herzog, Wenders (‘Paris, Texas’, ‘Wings of Desire’) has this unique talent for making documentaries on art which in themselves become a work of art. After ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ (1999), where Wenders resurrected a specific time and place in pre-revolution Cuba, to play it again the music which is already lost, in his new film ‘Pina’ (2011), Wenders does to dance what he did for music in the previous film. And, what a glorious work of art it is, no less in 3D, though I had to be content to watch it on a computer screen. (I’m sure the film will not be released in India, a pity. Can I ask the organisers of PIFF (Pune International Film Festival) source a 3D copy of the film somehow? Can I? Won’t it be wonderful to see this film in big screen?)

Pina Bausch (1940-2009), a German performer of modern dance, who invented a new form of dancing with her unorthodox blend of stage setting, music and movement, is an icon on her own right. And this film is not a documentary on her life; it was planned that way, and was not to be.

Pina was a reluctant artist when it came to her personal life, she preferred to speak through her work. When her long-time friend Wenders wanted to do a documentary on her, she agreed. But, Wenders was not sure how to shoot the film, in the context of conventional film technique, to show the depth of Pina’s dance movements, until he saw the 2009 U2 film on 3D. Instantly, he knew, Pina’s dance movements needed the 3D technology. As Wenders prepared to shoot the film, Pina died, and Wenders all but abandoned the project, until the dance maestro’s colleagues and students convinced him to shoot the film anyway.

The result is a wondrous pastiche, a tribute to Pina Bausch she deserves, by recreating select dance pieces choreographed by her, interspersed with brief tributes by her colleagues, and their own tributes to her. The result is a celebration of dance... “dance, dance, otherwise you are lost...”

The result is extraordinary, devastatingly beautiful and heartbreaking and full of pathos and understanding — a veritable work of art. The film is Germany’s entry to the Oscar for best foreign language film this year, and it deserves the award. It deserve everything.

Wenders calls this film a film for Pina, not about her, and it’s true.

The film does not tell us anything about Pina, her personal life and so on, but shows us who she was, though the dancers dancing for her.

Wenders shoots these dance pieces with the inventiveness of a master artist. One of the fantastic things Wenders does is to free the dances and the dancers from the limitations of the stage. So we see dance performances everywhere, on the monorail, on a traffic island, near a swimming pool, in the park, on the hills, everywhere. And when they are at the stage, the stage is filled with sand, chairs water splashing everywhere... especially chairs, a constant prop in Pina’s dances.

Pina Bausch developed a style called Tranztheatre (dance theatre) where a dance piece, instead of being an abstract expression, becomes a mode of story telling. So, we have ‘Cafe Muller,’ one of the most celebrated piece of work in Pina Bausch’s dance repertoire, involving a few tables and a large number of chairs.

I remember seeing this dance piece, a long time back, in the beginning of Pedro Almodover’s ‘Talk to Her’ (2002). I found the performance striking, very striking indeed, but, I had no idea who Pina Bausch was, and the significance of the performance. I did not know who Pina Bausch was till I saw this film. A shame!

Among the individual performances by the dancers from the Tranztheatre Wuppertal, my favourite piece involves a young man in a large room with glass walls dancing in longing, perhaps for his lover, while in background plays a Spanish song, ‘Luna de Margarita...’ I had never seen something so unique, something so extraordinary, the music, the dance...

And the music! The film contains a wonderful ensemble soundtrack, which itself is a treasure. Like the soundtrack of ‘Buena Vista Social Club’, this soundtrack too becomes a work of art in itself, each musical piece is so maddeningly beautiful.

W B Yeats wrote: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” In this film, each dancer, each movement becomes Pina Bausch.

Dance, dance, otherwise you are lost, said Pina Bausch, and you are invited to a carnival of dance. I cannot reccomend the film enough.

The Luna de Margarita sequence in Youtube.
A heartfelt 3D tribute by Wim Wenders to Pina Bausch, the late modern ballet choreographer, says Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian.
Pina Review in Ballet Dance magazine.
Pina Review in Cinema Autopsy.
More on Pina here.
More on the film here.

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