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Pina | Review

So you think you can dance in three dimensions?

Already touted as the most artistic use of 3D in the format’s history, it didn’t take long for the hyperbole to swarm Wim Wenders’ occasionally astonishing Pina Bausch what’s-it. First, the title of ‘best use of 3D’ still belongs to Cave of Forgotten Dreams (followed closely by Avatar, regardless of what one thinks of its script). Second, Wenders’ film, unlike Herzog’s and Cameron’s, is not dependent on the gimmicky format; the dances would be just as hypnotic and expressive in 2D (and it’d spare most of us the headaches, too). This is primarily a credit to Bausch’s genius, but also to Wenders’ competent tech team. Certainly a novel development in the way the essence of live and documented performance can be combined, one is ultimately left a bit curious as to how Bausch-specific Pina really is.

The structure is fairly straight forward: alternating between environmental and on-stage dance pieces (all choreographed by Bausch, obviously), we are intermittently interrupted from our spectatorship to receive short, didactic, talking-head blurbs about her philosophies, legacies, and personal charm. These interjections are easily the weakest link in the project, as they turn an experiential work into a hammy eulogy. The concept was actually developed between Wenders and Bausch while she was still living, so it’s no surprise that the elegiac bits don’t sit well; they’re literally an after-thought. It’d be like if Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, and other vital cast members of Eyes Wide Shut each popped in between reels to say a few words about Kubrick’s brilliance. If this serves any purpose, it makes the returns to the action all the more refreshing, and even abstract.

But it’s the dancing that matters, and Wenders’ additions to the choreography are what’s actually of interest here. Most notably, his decision to bring some of the numbers outside onto the streets. It links the dances with the specific language of the cinema world in a most unlikely way: it evokes the movie musical. The surreal absurdity of choreographed movement in the real world can only be compared with said flamboyant genre, and it’s uncanny to see it in such a high-brow and elegant incarnation. The cities’ vacancies contribute to this. Indeed, musicals incorporate a narrative skeleton to window-dress their songs & dance; here, there is no such thing. It’s a complete distillation of the genre – packing in the euphoria, abandoning the obligatory connective tissue. In that sense, Pina is cinema bliss. If only it didn’t feel like Bausch’s work could been replaced by Master Choreographer X, this might have been a winner. As is, we’ll call it an essential curiosity.

Reviewed on September 18th at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – Masters Programme.

103 Mins.

Rating 3 stars

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Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

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