Review by Michael Jacobson
Director: Wim Wenders
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 103 Minutes
Release Date: January 22, 2013
“What are we longing for? Where does all this yearning come from?”
Pina Bausch was a tremendous icon in the world of dance...sad to say, she was unknown to me before now, not having followed dance as closely as I do with other arts. Her contemporary interpretations were legendary, her dancers tightly knit and committed, and her visions often broke out beyond the boundaries of the stage and into the world.
German director Wim Wenders was a fan who became a friend and would have become a collaborator, but sadly, Ms. Bausch was taken from us before filming could begin. The project was almost abandoned, but two forces helped bring it to fruition: her dancers, who wanted to memorialize her, and the advent of the newer 3D technology, which gave Wenders what he felt was lacking in his film up to that point: the tremendous sense of spatial composition present in the choreography.
So Pina is an open love letter, a tribute, a celebration of her life and a wistful mourning of her passing all in one. The film showcases dance numbers, to be sure, but also the memories of the dancers, who appear still in front of the camera, their words merely a voiceover to their thoughts.
The dances take place on stages filled with elements like earth and water, and also outdoors in both natural and more urban settings. One woman even has a monster-like dance with a pillow on a public train.
This is not ballet, nor is it the dance of the stage musical, but rather movement as expression and interpretation. One famous dance, “Cafe Mueller”, has a stage filled with chairs and tables that are constantly being arranged as dancers move through, always in danger of being toppled by the implements in their way. A scene has one man desperately trying to pose a couple with the woman in the arms of her lover, only to see it fall away time and time again.
Perhaps best of all is “The Rite of Spring”, a famous piece of music by Igor Stravinsky that many forget was intended to be a ballet. I had never seen it danced before, and under Pina's vision, the dancers seem to grow organically from the earth in a fascinating and primitive ritual of nature.
I confess, I don't always “get” this kind of dance. In much of it, though there is music, I don't feel the movements have anything to do with the time signatures of the tunes. Some of it is grace and beauty, and some of it seems like we're watching some kind of strange mime show. In one amazing sequence, there is actually 'rain' pouring down upon the stage, adding an extra dimension to the dance, but Gene Kelly this ain't.
Speaking of extra dimension, 3D was definitely the correct choice for this material. Not only did it serve to present the spaces that Nina Pausch intended, as Wenders correctly surmised, but it adds a tremendous sense of texture to the natural additions. Sometimes, as seen from an audience point of view with theatrical seats in front of us, we are watches. Other times, the world opens up to us and we feel like participants.
That Ms. Pausch was an imaginative artist, there is no doubt, nor is there any that her passing left both a personal and creative void in the lives of those who blossomed under her tutelage. So if nothing else, Pina ensures that her dance, by design a temporal art form, can be frozen in time for modern and future generations to marvel at and remember.
This disc marks Criterion's first 3D Blu-ray issue, and Criterion treats the technology as lovingly as they do with the many classic films in their library. This is a breathtaking and vividly real experience. Nothing presented here is for the sake of showing off, but rather for engaging the viewer in a special world the way it was always meant to be scene. Colors and images are crisp and clean throughout. Occasionally, some scenes have such depth of focus that a touch of ghosting can be seen in the images furthest from the camera, but that can easily be forgiven as this movie presents some of the clearest and most beautiful uses of 3D I've yet had the pleasure to experience.
The DTS HD track is mostly music, but the music is potent, clean and clear throughout, with plenty of punch for dynamic range. I've heard “The Rite of Spring” countless times, but never with the sense of realism that this uncompressed track contains. This is an enveloping listening experience.
I slipped off my glasses to peruse the extras on the first disc...a collection of 14 deleted scenes and a making-of featurette. The images were a little doubled. I thought, no, it couldn't be...could it? I cautiously reached for my glasses and found...these extras are in 3D! This may be the first time apart from the occasional demo where features included on a disc were also in 3D...very nice!
The second Blu-ray disc is 2D, and contains the other extras, starting with a loving commentary from Wim Wenders. There is also some behind-the-scenes footage, an interview with the director, and some trailers. Rounding out is a terrific booklet with thoughts from Wenders, Pina Bausch herself, and a guide to the dancers in the film!
Pina Bausch may be gone, but her unique vision lives on in Pina, a loving film that captures her creativity and preserves it for all time. Criterion has made a stellar entry into the league of 3D producing studios. This disc should not be missed.