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.
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.