PINA (Wim Wenders, 2011)

“She saw everything, even with closed eyes.”

I wish I had seen Pina in 3-D, Wim Wenders’ use of which has been described by critic Noel Murray as “visionary.” Regardless, this magnificent work by Wenders eulogizing German dancer-choreographer Pina Bausch dazzles, moves and wistfully haunts. Wenders had hoped to be collaborating with Bausch on a different kind of documentary, but Bausch’s unexpected death almost immediately after shooting had begun, following decades of uncertainty on Wenders’ part as to how to use film to convey the spirit of Bausch’s achievement in modern dance, required taking another tack.
     Bausch’s choreography typically involves a confrontation—a dialectic, some might say—between her dancers and interposed “obstacles” they must overcome in order to unleash wit, startling fluidity, even the appearance of weightlessness; for instance, water—whether a splashed-into body of water or water squirted by mouth between floor-reclining dancers—is recruited into the concept of the piece. But something else unifies the scraps and glimpses of Bausch’s art that Wenders showcases—something akin to these “obstacles”: a simultaneity of push and pull, strength and delicacy, aggression and passivity. Since every single bit of Bausch’s choreography shown to us in this film exemplifies this dynamic tendency, a few examples may serve to suggest the thematic pattern into which everything else the film comprises falls. We see a dancer pulling up her own head by the hair; another dancer steps solidly and aggressively toward the camera onboard a bus that is ultimately determining the course of her body in the opposite direction; a Furies-like (although male) “gang” of dancers storms a solitary female dancer, thwarting the self-determination of her body’s movement; a dancer recalls Bausch having told her, “Your fragility is your greatest strength”—a dictum that we then see her dancing illustrate. (Throughout, Wenders transfers to the outdoors some of the dances, all of which were originally intended for the stage.) Such instances, and many others, demonstrate a way of perceiving the mechanism of life’s experience.
     Now let me suggest something extraordinary: Wenders’ masterpieces, including Pina, are driven by the same way of looking at things: The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1971), Wrong Move (1975), In the Course of Time (1976), Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1987).
     The choreographic work of Pina Bausch has left Wenders with their eternal kinship (is it a German thing?), for which this gorgeous, shimmering film must remain a mortal marker.
     Best Documentary: European Film Awards, German Film Awards, German Film Critics Association.

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