Yesterday I went to see Wim Wenders’ Pina in 3D at the Barbican Centre. I’d bought tickets for my wife and I, because she’d missed it on its original theatrical run and I knew that she’d been very keen to catch it. For my part, though always a fan of Wenders (especially Paris, Texas), I’d been rather put off by the dance/choreography subject matter, and it had been way down my priority list.
So how glad was I that I caught it? As it happens, very.
For a start, the choreography combined with Wenders’ eye for a shot and subtle use of 3D was frequently astonishing in its daring, complexity and execution, with the dancers’ lithe bodies pretty much works of art in themselves. In mixing up outdoor and indoor sequences, rehearsals and live performances, Wenders broadened the scope of the material, and in doing so underscored the universality of the key themes of the dance; love, longing, loss, sadness. I enjoyed some of the dance sequences more than others, but they were all compelling in some way or another, and augmented by Wenders’ constantly prowling camera and sweeping, creeping dolly shots.
However, what I loved most about the film was its clear and robust dedication to celebrating the life of the late Pina Bausch almost solely through representations of her work. As a documentary, it eschewed excavation and information for action. In short, it understood what its subject was about; her essence. If you want to know where Pina was born, how she died etc…, then bloody well go and Google her, Wenders seemed to be saying. Testimony about Pina was limited to a series of simple, moving shots of members of her company overlaid by a few lines of their internal monologue; it’s like we were being gently, movingly ushered into their private thoughts.
By means of comparison, Kevin McDonald’s Marley - released earlier this year – seemed almost like an animated Wikipedia page in its fraught, expansive attempts to collect testimony on the man and map out his life. In the end, by almost wholly ignoring the inspiration for, and creation of, his music (surely his driving force), Marley ended up missing that sweet spot where information becomes evocation, and was actually closer in tone to Carol Morley’s elusive doc Dreams of a Life, about a lady who lay dead, unnoticed, for three years, than Wenders’ joyous memento to the creative fire of one inspirational woman.
Overall, Pina represented not just a particularly entertaining couple of hours in the cinema and a fascinating way of approaching documentary filmmaking, but also served as a timely little reminder to me that it’s always good to keep one’s horizons broad because – put simply – a good film is a good film whatever the subject matter.
Pina is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.