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Blu-ray 3D Review: Pina – The Criterion Collection

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Pina is director Wim Wenders’ tribute to modern dance innovator Pina Bausch. Although originally intended as a collaboration with Pina, it became, after her death in 2009, more of a retrospective of her work, and features the members of her dance troupe performing a wide range of scenes from key productions as well as individual dance sequences to highlight each performer.

The Movie

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good documentary. What I find most interesting is the journey of discovery they provide, offering glimpses of places, people or professions that many of us might otherwise have little interaction with. It can be light subject matter, heavy topics or a defining moment in a culture or history. But it’s this ability to make the foreign or unknown more knowable that pulls you in, or just as often provides for some nice entertainment. And it was with this attitude and interest that I decided to approach modern dance by way of Pina.

However, Pina is a bit of a difficult film to accurately pin down. It’s part documentary and part performance film, but not quite either. And it’s this lack of general structure that could make it more of a hard sell for many. Although the film offers a brief glimpse into who Pina was and what she did, it spends very little time there, instead skipping straight to the result of her work. The front half of the film is dominated by some larger excerpts from some of her primary productions (Café Müller and Le sacre du printemps, specifically), with the second half mainly including representative performances by each of the dancers. It certainly covers a broad range of modern dance, but it plays like a highlight reel.

In-between performance pieces, many of the dancers offer memories of Pina and her influence on them as performers. They are quick thoughts, delivered as voiceover soundbites to contemplative head shots of each dancer, with the idea that these are people used to expression through movement instead of words. These moments offer some glue to hold the production together, and provide just enough insight into this person and this art form to begin a bridge to enlightenment. But it ultimately goes unfinished.

If you are already a fan of modern dance – with its varied and often loose interpretation of what constitutes the entirety of “dance” – then there is going to be a lot to like with Pina. The performances are bold, delivered with passion and carefully controlled power. The filming is beautiful, offering an up-close look rarely available to theater patrons. But for something that is going to be a new experience for many, Pina rarely provides the context and narrative necessary to invite in newcomers just stepping into this world, instead relying on montage and snapshot glimpses to represent the unexplained.

Video / 3D

The picture for Pina is particularly impressive. Every scene is impeccably framed and shot. Even amidst the presence of swirling dust and drops of water, there’s an unmatched intimacy that the camera is able to capture of the performers and their surroundings. Detail is fine, colors are rich and clearly defined and, due to its modern digital source, there are no troubling artifacts or damage to report.

One of the more interesting things to come out of the bonus features for this title is the information regarding the very careful approach they took towards implementing 3D. Wenders provides a good bit of detail on their entry to this field, including attempts to balance stereoscopic definition with the needs for constant-motion film. The results are impressive indeed, providing some of the best and most natural-looking live action 3D I’ve seen. It’s not exaggerated, as 3D in animation can often become, but it’s something that creates a sense of realistic depth and space. Things start off well at the beginning, where even the view from the back of an empty theater offers an impressive sense of scale. And then during several of the dance sequences the attention they paid to correctly interpreting depth and point of view yields wonderful results. Also of particular note is how well balanced the colors come across, very ably conveying the wide array of hues present in the 2D version.

Audio

Pina often feels more like a music video than a documentary, and so its audio track becomes a key component to the film. Fortunately, its 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a winner, and highlights the excellent selection of music presented in the film. Dialogue, when used, is well balanced and functions more as segues to different moments of the film. There is overall a general immersion in the surround speakers, without too much distinct separation moments, although a few are present, specifically when incorporating live environment sounds.

Bonus Material

In a break with most 3D releases, Pina actually offers a substantial amount of special features in 3D as well as the standard 2D versions. These will be signified with a “+ 3D” in the details below. However, it should be noted that there seems to be a disc mastering error with this initial run of the 3D disc which leaves the main menu overlay present during much of the bonus material (all of the making of feature, as well as all of the even numbered deleted scenes). Hopefully a corrected disc will be available from Criterion, as they are usually very good about providing them in such instances.

First up is the commentary track (+ 3D) featuring Wim Wenders, who provides a scripted but informative discussion on the genesis and challenges of the film, background information on the troupe and individual dancers, and also digging into some of the particular challenges and benefits of 3D filming. “The Making Of Pina” (HD + 3D, 45:33) is actually of a more proper documentary type and provides ample information on Pina Bausch, her innovations and departures in the world of dance and the history of the film project. It’s a bit maddening that the “Deleted Scenes” (HD + 3D, 38:46) do not have a ‘play all’ feature, so you’ll have to manually work your way through all fourteen of them. Some are scenes or dances not shown in the film due to time or alternate representative dances from performers, while a handful are additional material from performances that were shown. It’s interesting that a few of the sequences really don’t present any form of “dance” at all, giving further allusion to the troupe as ultimately championing a multi-discipline form of performance art.

“Behind-the-scenes Footage” (HD, 8:07) are a collection of five brief sequences offering a peek into the filming process. “Wim Wenders” (HD, 22:27) is in HD only in the strictest technical sense, but is rather an up-conversion of oddly poor video quality featuring interview footage with the director. Most of the information he covers is redundant from the commentary and making-of feature. The excellent “Trailer” (HD, 1:41) for the film is also included, which is actually a nice highlights reel in its own right. Finally, there is a generous booklet accompanying the set featuring an essay by Siri Hustvedt, quotes from Wim Wenders and Pina Bausch, and generous photos and info on the dance troupe.

Conclusion

If you’re already a fan of modern dance or Pina Bausch, Pina will impress as an exquisite collection of beautifully filmed sequences. However, that was not quite me. Not only did I come to the subject matter as a bit of an outsider, but due to its odd blend of montage structure and not-quite-documentary approach, I really only connected with it in moments, but never as a whole. It is often beautiful, with several poignant moments and abundant examples of diverse physical skill and grace. But its scattered approach of trying to represent everything gives it a disjointed feel. Although a stunning display of live and accurate 3D filming, it is bound to find mixed results with audiences not already in tune with modern dance. However, for those who are, Criterion offer a generous and lushly presented release with Pina.

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About David R Perry