OSCARS DEATH RACE: Pina

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by Sarah D. Bunting
February 14, 2012 6:35 AM
2 Comments
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[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]

Pina made me impatient for at least an hour. A small part of it is seeing the film at BAM, where arriving at the specified showtime is considered entirely optional and in fact rather bourgeois, but whispering knowingly throughout the film is considered mandatory. A much larger part of it is the medium of dance; I respect it, and especially its physical demands, but it's…not my way, I guess. My response to "some situations have no words" is not "express the situation via the body." It's "get a thesaurus and try again."

And another large part of it is co-director Wim Wenders, who, in my experience, is more than happy to wait out the whiny-squirmy "get to the point, just tell me what's important, this is boring" viewer -- which is my way -- and let the images and moments accumulate. You don't so much get to the point as realize that it's surrounded you since the beginning. I don't know Wenders's work all that well, actually; this is just my impression, and it's certainly the case with Pina, a 3D documentary that's a dance concert movie, and an experiment with re-setting dance out into the world, and a working-through of loss by a dance company whose forceful and incisive leader has died. (Pina is Pina Bausch, artistic director of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch; she passed away just days before principal shooting was to begin.)

The decision to shoot in 3D is understandable, but I don't know that it's necessary to the film's power. Some of the choreography is, in my opinion, overly obvious and earnest, and the grand plié denoting childbirth or the "I am floppy with grief" sequences aren't any fresher for seeming to happen in your lap. But the depth of field in the staging brings out a lot of cool visuals: dancers flashing through the foreground, water spinning outwards, men appearing as if from nowhere or out of a giant rock.

Still, the recurring themes of compulsion, inspection, the rearranging of the self don't require the eyes in order to have their effect. The pain and joy of the reverent interstitials, then reflected in dances on trams and in intersections and along hilltops, don't require glasses. The moment where a man curls up, sad, relieved, drained, at rest, on a woman's flat back as she walks is the moment where I realized I'd been there all along.

Absolutely not for everyone, Pina, but it's one of those movies I thank the Death Race for each year because it's knocked me a couple degrees to one side.

Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.comFor more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.

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2 Comments

  • Universal Donor | February 14, 2012 6:12 PMReply

    Sars, you are an American treasure. Your first paragraph is like a manifesto. You really make me FEEL like I'm sitting in BAM with you and Holden Caulfield, hating on the phonies. Even though I'm pretty sure I'm going to love this movie, you momentarily make me pretty sure I should be embarrassed about that. Smooches!

  • Sarah D. Bunting | February 14, 2012 11:45 PM

    Unless you were the dingleberry who climbed over me 15 minutes after the movie started, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. (Pretty sure it wasn't you. Short guy.)

    ...Well, maybe the Salinger comparison, but I'm-a let that go. I think you'll really dig Pina.

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