What is Pina really, besides one of the best movies of the year? It’s not a documentary, at least not in the traditional sense. After watching it I can tell you very little biographical information about Pina Bausch, the choreographer the movie claims it is “for.” I don’t know much more about modern dance after seeing the film, which is 90% dancing. I don’t have a greater appreciation for it, I still think dance is a very limited form of dramatic expression but the movie isn’t trying to express anything narrative with it’s dancing, just a love for the person who created it.
People are interviewed, dancers, who knew Pina Bausch and I’m sure their personal loss at her passing is extreme. But I did not know her and for me she exists, if she exists at all, as a choreographer, a creator of dance, and as that dance remains, for me she is not really dead. Pina shows me that dancing and celebrates it in a series of beautifully staged sequences, in theaters, in subways, on the edge of vertiginous cliffs. Biopics and eulogistic documentaries do their best to show us the “real” person in their subject. I did not know Johnny Cash and I can watch Walk the Line 100 times and not come closer to knowing him, he exists for me in “Ring of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Hurt,” that’s what made him worthy of a biopic. Pina forgoes trying to get me to know its subject in that way, the interviews are neither biographical nor particularly revealing in their characterization of this person, they are mainly routine and forgettable stories and anecdotes about how she loved dancing and touched lives through dance. The interviewees are much more revealing when they speak with their feet, honoring the creator of these amazing steps and routines. Wim Wenders made one of the greatest movies of them all with Wings of Desire and given the interest and care given to the circus performer in that film, herself a type of modern dancer, it’s not difficult to understand his attraction to this material.
The sequences are beautifully photographed and arranged. Wenders’ camera is never obtrusive but rather another dancer and in this way it really does become a film “for” someone and not “about” them. This would be the best documentary of the year if could be so easily categorized as that.