Monday, January 23, 2012

Pina in 3D

PINA IN 3D                            B+                  
Germany  France  Great Britain  (106 mi)  2011  d:  Wim Wenders 

There are situations that leave you utterly speechless. All you can do is hint at things.      
—Pina Bausch

While well-intentioned, to be sure, the idea of extending the use of 3D technology into the art film is getting ridiculous (see the photos of German Chancellor Angela Merkel adjusting her 3D glasses at the Berlin Festival premiere), as the fact remains very few films are the better for it, as the merit of a film continues to rise or fall based on the overall quality and essence of the film itself, not the use of technology, and this film is no different.  Wenders was intending a collaborative effort with internationally acclaimed dance choreographer Pina Bausch, the longtime director of the Tanztheater Wuppertal (since 1973), but she died just days after being diagnosed with cancer in 2009.  The film is very much a reverent eulogy to her memory, where one by one throughout the film members of the dance troupe are singled out, many offering a reflection on a particular moment they shared together, perhaps the moment they truly felt accepted, while others simply stare at the camera in silence.  One prominent theme advanced by many is the idea that language alone is limited, that dance, and art overall, is an extension of our capacity to understand and better appreciate human expression, that beginning with the dancers themselves, each is responsible for discovering that unique voice within themselves, captured through constant tinkering and experimentation with movement, so that each personality continually radiates their own personal vision while working within a larger dance ensemble.  This mix of individuality within a community of diverse dancers perhaps best expresses Bausch’s artistic vision, combining theatricality with dance, conveying universal expressions of loneliness and alienation with the need for intimacy, mixing sorrow with exhilaration and joy, often comically absurd but always intensely engaging.  Not so much interested in the movement, more so the idea and motivating force behind the movement, Bausch remains a visionary force with a demand for autobiographical truth and authenticity.   

Unlike Frederic Wiseman, Wenders never shoots an entire work uninterrupted from start to finish, but instead interweaves excerpts from four major works, never identifying them by name or the accompanying music, but they include Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Café Müller, Kontakthof, and Vollmond (Full Moon), often mixing various stage works with what looks like variations on a theme using improvisational outdoor settings, where Wenders takes full advantage of the streets outside with the overhead tram passing by, including scenes from inside the tram car itself, or a countryside rock quarry, a public swimming pool, an empty, museum like all-window room with the view of a forest outside, a beautiful city park, a meditative lakeside shoreline, or various architectural settings, where the surprise element of dance being performed in a natural environment has a special appeal all its own.  What the outdoors also brings is extra light, making this much brighter than the usually darkened 3D experience.  While the music is consistently outstanding, Wenders blends various theatrical pieces, moving from indoors to outdoors, where there’s always a smooth transitional feel, constantly changing the dancers, the costumes, and the stage, where the focus keeps evolving, as if we’re part of a continuing drama that is playing out in human form.  In one of the more quietly intriguing pieces, featuring phenomenal physical dexterity, a woman crawls through a wooden chair on the floor as a man adds another chair on top of that one, which she steps through, continually adding chairs on top of that which she and another dancer safely climb through as the tower of chairs grows ridiculously high, needing a chair to stand on in order to place yet another chair high atop.  Whatever issues one may have with the tame or rather conventional manner of the filmmaking itself, leaving much unexplained and unfathomable, it is a joy from start to finish, as the dance onscreen is simply extraordinary and has rarely been presented with this degree of love and artistic beauty.  

We grow familiar with many of the dancers after awhile, probably picking out several favorites, where the diverse cultural background, as many as 17 different nationalities, includes European and Asian, also Central and South American, including indigenous natives, where many are naturally shy and weren’t sure what to expect from Bausch, who was a constant presence but rarely spoke to them, where one mentioned she uttered a single phrase to her in twenty years.  There’s an interesting mixture of young and old, as one dancer is the child of two original dancers, while Kontakthof has young dancers suddenly morph into another version of themselves as older people, still doing the same dance routine.  Café Müller, the dance of a blind woman in a room full of chairs, is beautifully featured, along with Bausch’s Masurca Fogo, in Almodóvar’s TALK TO HER (2002), a dance Bausch used to perform herself in the early 70’s (seen briefly), and receives an extended treatment here, something of a heartfelt homage to the man seen frantically removing the chairs who has now died as well.  The two pieces given the fullest expression are the opening and closing pieces, the violent, ritualistic battle of the sexes in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, performed on several tons of dirt hauled onstage, an enthralling piece making use of a red scarf where a woman is sacrificed to a group of threatening men for the supposed good of the community, a precisely choreographed gang rape scene where you can hear the dancers panting audibly.  The closer is Vollmond (Full Moon), a jubilant work featuring a dozen or more different musical selections, given a modernistic twist, where a gigantic monolith style rock sits off to the side while the stage is beset by falling rain, where at first dancers playfully speed through the water with rowing sticks, eventually bellyflopping on their stomachs doing the breastroke, but eventually the dancers grab buckets of water to splash against the rock, where the spray comes flying off in a near waterfall effect, leaving everyone sopping wet.  Wenders has created a delightful if loosely structured piece that can be hypnotic at times, something of a dance mosaic weaving in and out of meticulous formations that is most fun when the dancers can simply let loose and inhabit new worlds.     

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