I had a feeling that there would inevitably be at least one film bound for my end of year list that simply did not make it in under the wire, and soon after faded from my attention before kicking me in the ass later on. I did not at all expect that film to be "Pina", Germany's entry last year for Best Foreign Language Film which instead found an in through the Documentary field. Though that genre specification may technically be true, spiritually the film exceeds the confines of documentary. The talking heads format that the film seemingly starts up with doesn't quite hold the initial disdain I began the film with, and instead exceeds to become something beyond simple narration.
Based on the works of contemporary dance choreographer Pina Bausch, though clearly much more than simply that. The film wouldn't amount to much if it were merely a talking heads doc about how great Pina was, or even just an assemblage of four of her most well known dances. Fact of the matter is, as stated before, this isn't a documentary. Neither would I call it inherently narrative, but more of loose formed letter in poetic form. It's difficult venturing into deep quandaries on the film without spoiling so much of its symbolic impact, but needless to say that it's not just about Pina. In an explicit fashion, I suppose you could read it as such, but implicitly the film just as reciprocal to us.
"Pina" works on so many different cylinders reeling off simultaneously, and even as the film is unfolding before you, you are realizing it. On one front, there is the detailed choreography of Pina, which is very much how her presence comes out onscreen. She is the director in the sense of her dancer's correspondence with their environments. Wim Wenders, meanwhile, has an understandably different job, in terms of representing the visuality of these dancers in their environments, and how light and space is shined upon them. Sometimes that means throwing them in these bustling urban environments that thrives so gorgeously with the dances and the dancers. Always is it about giving dimension to the space, and the 3D work on the film even comes out in 2D. The impact is far from lessened, nor is it at all gimmicky.
One of the most fascinating things about the film, however, is that it could so easily not have existed at all. After Pina Bausch died, just before production was to get underway, Wim Wenders canceled the film. What persuaded him to come back wasn't anything but the passion of the dancers who had worked under Pina for years. Even that is a passionate statement, that they wanted him to make this film, and their commitment to it is what we feel constantly. The dancers who appear onscreen always have something to say (or even not say) about what is happening visually in the film. "Keep searching, even without knowing where to look, nor whether you're on the right track." It's a statement that solidifies the fact that these actors are very much trying to find their ways in a world suddenly without Pina, and that simple factor of loss speaks not just of Pina, but of anybody we've lost. Who would we be without the important people? "Pina" raises this question deeper in its avoidance of explicitly stating it than any more overt film would.