CIFF Diary: Day 12, pt.2 - Movement and Space

10/18 -
She developed a unique phenomenology of gestures,
a view of the world, so to speak, or even better:
an explanation or interpretation of our humanity
that was wholly new and unexplored.

           -Wim Wenders, on September 4, 2009,
             at the memorial ceremony for Pina Bausch
              in the Wuppertal Opera House

Pina Bausch photographed by Donata Wenders, 2004
Without a doubt, the highlight of the Chicago International Film Festival was Wim Wenders' presentation of his 3-D tribute to the life and work of renowned choreographer, Pina Bausch.  Before the CIFF screening of Pina, Wim Wenders gave an eloquent introduction for his new film that detailed the arduous journey of the nearly abandoned project.  Twenty years in the making, Wenders had communicated numerous times with Bausch about making a dance film, but, even after viewing every dance film he could get his hands on, he was not only dissatisfied with all past portrayals of dance on film, but confounded about how to capture the brilliance of Bausch's work in one of his own.  Then, Wenders told us, he saw a film that brought all of his ideas into the light.  Although he found the title inelegant, U2 3D was an unexpected catalyst for his thinking about the collaboration with Brausch, and he was on the phone to Bausch before the credits were done rolling.  "I know how to do it," he said to her.  Unfortunately, Bausch died at 68 years old, only days after she was diagnosed with cancer, and just before the film was to go into production.

"The Rite of Spring" - Pina
I hesitate to attach the descriptor "3-D" to Wender's extraordinary film, given the climate of the current commercial cinema as it desperately tries to sell every weak-scripted product to a mass audience through the use of 3-D, defiling a technology that, as we see in such rare glimpses, can be used to astonishing affect.  Although "3-D" is entirely accurate and necessary here, the term itself seems to have been dragged through the mud.  I have commented on the empty use of 3-D technology a number of times on this site, but seeing a film like Pina reminds me anew how carelessly the technique of shooting in this format has been used over the last decade (and, trust me, I've seen a lot of them, from the animated features to the horror splatter-fests).  With the majority of 3-D movies, the 3-D process often being applied in post-production as more of a marketing tool than an aesthetic one, the "effect" usually starts out very strong, eventually drifting away from it's capacity to "wow" the audience by halfway into the picture.  And, why shouldn't it?  Everything else in our lives is 3-dimensional, so how long can the thrill really be expected to last inside the cinema, especially when nobody took the care to make the images meaningful in their two dimensional state?  As far as my experience is concerned, I have seen only three films that grasp the potential for 3-D cinema:  Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreamsthe Nasa produced Hubble 3D (not a great film in it's writing or construction, but a mind-blowing 3D experience of time and space travel)and, now, Wim Wenders' Pina.

Wenders was inspired to complete his film by the dancers who lived on with Bausch's work in their bodies.  The way in which he documents Bausch's dancers is brilliant, always contrasting a candid, intimate close up of each member with a voice over of them expounding on Bausch's influence.  Wenders then contrasts the stillness of these portraits with dance scenes that pay tribute to Bausch through each individual dancer, often set in stunning outdoor locations, or within interiors that, through the poetic use of Wenders' camera, become part of the dance in his stereoscopic vision.  Also on display here are longer passages from the most memorable of Bausch's work:  "The Rite of Spring," "Cafe Mueller," "Kantakthof," and "Vollmond."  It is within these ensemble stage pieces that we feel the full power of Bausch's choreography, and begin to believe that Wenders was, indeed, correct:  this is a film that needed to be in 3D.

"Cafe Mueller" -  Pina
Prior to the screening, Wenders told us that Pina is not a sad film.  But, if there is one criticism I can make of Pina, it is that it is difficult to see through 3D glasses when you are weeping.  And, no, the film is not sad, and the tears were tears of absolute wonder.  Wenders told us after the screening that back in the 80's he had no interest in dance whatsoever.  But, once he saw Bausch's work, the weight of what he was seeing expressed was, for him, revelatory.  Particularly, what Bausch's work expressed to him about relationships between men and women was more revealing and insightful than every movie he had seen up until that point combined, he told us.  Pina shows in Wenders' work the careful and intent gaze that was supposedly Pina's trademark as a director, as he allows the life and work of his dear and talented friend to live on through this breathtaking document.

"Vollmond" - Pina
My personal love of dance feels strikingly similar to what Wenders described in his Q&A that evening.  What can be captured about the human condition through the basic elements of motion and space, beyond language, blows me away in very much the same way he expressed, and so fully communicates through this film.  I can say the same for the great movement and spaces of Wender's films, which continue to inspire with the same potency as when I first encountered them.  Without Kings of the Road, Wings of Desire, Paris, Texas...the list goes on...I wouldn't see the world in the same way that I do today.  I thank the CIFF for allowing us to engage with Wenders, and for giving me the opportunity to thank this tremendous director for is work.

Wim and I at the CIFF
Up Next:  Zaida Bergroth's Gold Hugo Winner in the New Directors category at the CIFF, The Good Son.


Husni Ashiku said...

This post makes me think of Maya and what her films may have looked like in 2011 if she were still alive. Never-the-less, I agree, if there ever was a film that needed to be in 3D this would be it. My first experience watching a performance by Pina was her version of the Rite of Spring this moved me to tears by its beauty aswell…. did I mention that I watched it on You Tube. I can't imagine the intensity of this film but I thank you for writing about it and making me aware of its existence. Same goes for every post from your CIFF adventures and most of all thanks for inviting me to go with you. These last couple of years of watching movies with you at the CIFF and Big Muddy have made me not only appreciate good films but the film festival experience its self. More people need to take advantage of it but if they don't that okay too. I like short lines to the ticket booth.

Jason Hedrick said...

I'm surprised I hadn't thought of Maya in writing up this film, but you are absolutely right. I can't imagine that Maya wouldn't have made three or four 3D dance films if she were still around!--the ones she left with us are pretty amazing as it is, particularly "A Study in Choreography for the Camera": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnUEr_gNzwk. I anticipate your reaction to "Pina" when you see it--you are one of my favorite people to see film with, primarily because you are always open to something new. Since you took that first film course with me your appetite for film has been insatiable, and you continue to read across films beautifully Thanks for joining me, my friend (see you at the St. Louis Fest, perhaps?)