NZIFF ’11: Pina

nziff ’11: Pina
dir. Wim Wenders | Germany/France | 2011 | 103 mins.

In 2008, quote-whore Richard Corliss called Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionairea buoyant hymn to life.” As most of us later found out, that was a completely ridiculous statement to make about a film that was, at best, merely enjoyable. Wim Wenders’ new 3-D documentary—among the first wave of European art-films to harness the technology for artful purposes rather than simply bombast—is definitely worthy of that level of praise, though. His Pina is more than just an acknowledgement of the late modern-dance choreographer’s work; it’s a full-blown resurrection, a vibrant, gloriously colourful celebration of the artist expressed in her own words (which aren’t actually words at all, of course—they’re movements).

The film’s sometimes tentative employment of 3-D will in the not too distant future undoubtedly be seen as rudimentary (scene-setting bookends resemble nothing so much as an early-’90s ‘interactive’ cd-rom!), but the added depth-of-field provided by the technology is here exploited to its limit throughout the film as we’re shown various of Bausch’s performances re-enacted on-stage, with portions broken out and given new life on the streets and surrounds of Wuppertal, Bausch’s home and creative center for more than 35 years.

Performed by members of the Ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal with whom the choreographer worked for decades, the film incorporates excerpts from four of Bausch’s productions. “Café Müller,” which is usually performed without music but is given here given orchestral accompaniment, involves a charcoal stage filled with nothing but chairs and tables over which the performers stumble and fall. A sensuous setting of Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du printemps” calls for the stage to be covered in a layer of dirt, while the lively “Vollmond” (“La Luna Llena,” or “Full Moon”) requires a huge, bean-shaped scraggly rock in the middle of the stage, as well as gallons of water and several plastic buckets. “Kontakthof,” which closes Wenders’ ‘show,’ incorporates the biggest number of performers as it inquisitively explores time and the ageing process with good humour and tenderness.

Portions of these performances cleave off from their staging and fly out into the world: there are performances on the Wuppertal Suspension Line (the city’s wonderful suspended monorails); in public spaces—the streets and sidewalks and roadsides of the city; and, in the film’s processional finalé, at what looks to be an industrial crater of some kind, atop a mountain of earth. Amid this there are segments which almost meet the definition of “standard biographical documentary”—reminisces of Pina from a half-dozen or so members of the ensemble delivered non-simultaneously (that is to say, we hear their voices but are shown their faces, sometimes smiling, sometimes impassioned, sometimes demure, without their lips moving.) This is all mixed in with selected archival footage of Bausch at work, the delivery of which places the audience (as with the bookends, somewhat gimickly) at a remove: it appears as if it were 16-mm footage being projected onto a screen in front of a small audience.

Bausch, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in June 2009, is paid loving tribute in this slightly flawed but invigorated cinematic experience. Not one to shy away from new avenues, Wenders has—with his countryman Werner Herzog, whose documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams is by all accounts characteristically entertaining and dazzling—eagerly if gingerly stepped into the realms of the third dimension, along the way giving the art-film a much needed defibrillation.

The New Zealand International Film Festivals began on July 14 in Auckland, and finished there this past weekend; they started last week in Wellington, and travel to Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, and Hamilton throughout August, then Nelson, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Hawke’s Bay, Greymouth, Masterton in September and October before finishing in Kerikeri in November.

Full information on all films in the programme is at the festival’s website.

For more reviews, browse the “New Zealand International Film Festivals 2011
tag on this site, and check the Twitter hashtag #nzff.