Last Spring, a german filmmaker mostly known for his fictional features made a splash with one of the first 3D documentaries.
Flash forward nine months, and we’re seeing it all over again. Last year it was Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, its subject the ancient Chauvet Cave. This time, it’s Wim Wenders’ Pina, about the work of Pina Bausch – an important figure within Modern Dance.
Herzog’s film made a splash for being the first 3D documentary to secure distribution, but the 3D itself only had a few moments to shine. That’s not the case with Pina – Wenders’ film isn’t as accessible nor as complete, but its use of its medium – 3D Video – is so masterfully done that just the visual aspect of the film justifies the whole. Which is good, because there isn’t a lot else.
Pina is not a typical documentary, where talking heads are edited into telling a linear story. Wenders is less interested in a biography of its subject and more interested in celebrating the body of work she left behind after her passing in 2009. While there are occasional interviews with her students, they’re rare and unique (audio of their dialogue is played non-diegetically, while the interviewee stares blankly into the camera).
A vast majority of the running time is spent documenting productions of her work. That’s not an easy proposition – transitioning work from one media to another is never easy, and most films would find it difficult to carry much essence of Bausch’s Performance Art into a recorded capsule. But Wenders’ secret weapon is his 3D Camera. With two lens, the screen becomes a performance space instead of a flat representation of one, and the movement at the heart of Bausch’s work is brought along with greater fidelity.
And, while it can’t be a perfectly faithful adaptation, Wenders does take advantage of some of the opportunities that film presents. For one, the perspective is no longer restricted to one spot off stage – Wenders sends his camera in and around the artists, as he sees fit to better reflect their motions. And, no longer restricted to a theater, he takes the dancers out on location, on trains and into wonderfully angled intersections in Wuppertal, Germany.
Pina is very successful at what it does, but it may be more fair to consider it an experiment than a traditional feature. While the performances are clearly of high quality, it will be hard for cineastes to fully get on board. This writer has to confess getting bored after a while – not because of any wrongdoing of the film, but because its subject requires some knowledge of Performance Art in order to be fully appreciated.
Still, its hard not to hold a lot of reverence for the Pina. Academy members agreed last month, when they nominated the picture for Best Documentary.
Disclaimer – the first twenty minutes of the mostly foreign language film were presented at my screening without subtitles. This glitch was eventually corrected, and the effect was negligible considering the how little speaking goes one in the film. But all the same, I still walked out without having seen the whole movie.