Pina Bausch, an art film

I’m sitting in my hotel at midnight in Berlin and compelled to write a brief review of PINA, Wim Wender’s (the man who made me sigh over angels and want to be a trapeze artist) new 3D film about the dancer, Pina Bausch.

PINA is categorized as a documentary but really it’s an art film. The film doesn’t have a narrative, not really… although it does through the stories Pina and her dancers are telling with their bodies. There is no call to action, no audience engagement, no narrative thread to follow – all the things I usually fret about.

But it is gorgeous, emotive, gripping, sometimes brutal and sometimes ecstatic. I didn’t know much about Pina Bausch (before: dancer, smoker, naked a lot; after: dancer, smoker, bit of a mad genius). This film is not a biopic. It is an homage.. or perhaps a deification of her work. I don’t know anything about Pina as a person and I really don’t care. It’s her story through her dances and her dancers and it is beautiful.

But those effing 3D glasses. When you watch YOGI BEAR or some going-native James Cameron story, the story may be entertaining but doesn’t deviate far from what we expect from the traditional Hollywood script. Most 3D work is either lighter and funnier or packed with explosions and racing around. None of these scenarios hold your full attention in a death grip. The glasses aren’t a big deal in those situations. In PINA, as the dancers build in intensity and speed, I’m unconsciously shoving my fist into my chest and holding my breath… and then the big, loose plastic glasses slip on my face so suddenly, I’m staring at half the screen and half of a big chunk of black plastic.

While the film looks great in 3D and I think it’s a wonderful use of the technology, it’s also a huge problem to have a technology that is in a lot of ways still pretty half-assed if it can so jarringly take your audience out of the emotional tension of a scene.

While the film is cool in 3D, as a filmmaker, I have trouble justifying making the audience hold a Viewmaster up to their faces for 2 hours. I’m not convinced it is worth the trade-off. I would have liked the film as much (minus the “oh! That looks cool!” factor on some shots) and I wouldn’t have been yanked out of the emotive apex of scenes.

That said, the movie is pretty damn amazing.


About rivetingpictures

I am a documentary filmmaker living in Chicago. I was the series producer of Y’ALL VERSUS US: HEAD 2 HEAD, an episodic documentary series shot over four months in rural Mississippi. A co-production between Young & Rubicam and Moxie Pictures, it aired nationwide on Fox Sports in 2010. I produced and directed TOWN AND COUNTRY (Milwaukee International Film Festival premiere 2009), co-producer and co-director of ALMOST HOME, which was part of the 2006 ITVS Independent Lens series; producer, director and editor of the documentary ORACLE OF OMAHA and producer/director of a series of web shorts entitled KILL IT AND COOK IT WITH LARRY. I serve on the Board of Directors for IFP Chicago and as committee chair for the IFP Producers Series, dedicated to enriching the professional experiences of Midwestern filmmakers. I have produced and filmed in Tanzania, Haiti, Australia, New Zealand, the former Yugoslavia and throughout America and Western Europe. I was one of 12 international filmmakers accepted in the HotDocs Film Festival’s DocLab in 2009 and is currently in Italy shooting a series of three documentary shorts exploring the artistry and craftsmanship of Venice’s chefs, painters and gondoliers.
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