Wednesday, February 19, 2014


As I was reading over Leanne's latest contribution to PINNLAND EMPIRE, I came to the realization that both of these films, along with the man responsible making them, are a little special to me - Early on in our relationship, I took my now fiancée; Sharon, to see Pina, while Wings Of Desire was the last film Claire Denis worked on before stepping out on her own to make her feature film debut (Wings Of Desire Co-Star Solveig Dommartin actually starred in Denis' sophomore feature as well).

So take some time outta your day to read the first guest writing of the year while I try to restore/rewrite some lost content and decide if I wanna write something on Philip Seymour Hoffman or not.
Also be sure to check out Leanne's film blog; LMK Film Pics...



This documentary has a deceiving title; if you are expecting to learn about choreographer Pina Bausch and her dance methods, this is not the film for you. The quote included on the promotional poster, ‘Dance, Dance, Otherwise We Are Lost’ would have been an excellent title because this is a documentary primarily about image and not factual information. Who is Pina Baush? Where was she born, how did she develop her style, when was her dance company established, etc.? Well, I wouldn’t know unless I read about her after the fact, as none of this is covered in the film. Originally projected in 3D (I viewed it in standard 2D), Wenders cuts major works by Bausch with dances staged in nature, on public transportation and on busy roadways to showcase the striking beauty and emotional theatricality of her art and her troop of dancers.

When I stated that there is little to no biographical information presented in this documentary about the eponymous woman, there is also hardly any information about the dancers or the pieces either. Early on female dancers are shown laying on a stage filled with soil and then a familiar bassoon solo is heard. I thought, “Ah, The Rite of Spring, excellent! Wait, this is not the correct choreography. What?” Luckily, I am a Stravinsky fan or I would have been completely lost. There is no title to identify this as "The Rite of Spring" and no explanation of the divergence from the original ballet choreography. Baush’s piece is primal, grimy and terrifying but also very confusing. I want to know how this version was conceived and the intended meaning. Was the reception as negative as with Nijinsky’s choreography? No answers are provided and only certain sections of Baush’s piece are shown. It is visually arresting but frustrating; if the entire piece was shown it would be a performance film and no answers would be expected, but this is a documentary and there are cuts within the piece, which is a very disorienting stylistic choice on Wender’s part. The camera captures the sinuous dancers in an intimate fashion which brings you onto the stage with them. The pity is that the pieces are cut randomly and give little context for what the dances represent.

Almodovar’s Talk to Her showcases Baush’s piece "Café Muller" in a more understandable fashion, to my estimation. That film overtly implied the dance’s meaning by having Marco and Benigno seated together at the recital. They were going to try, maybe fail, at saving the women they love. That brief scene was more instructive on the theme of the piece than the footage in this documentary. Two dancers discuss the work and examine a scale set of the area strewn with chairs, but a good deal more commentary could have been added to lend some comprehension to the proceedings.

Talk To Her
Talk To Her
Having a terse sentence: “You just have to get crazier” be the explanation of Pina’s choreography advice is frustrating. I’m genuinely curious why one piece has a dancer declare, “This is veal!”, has her insert veal into her shoes and proceeds to dance en pointe outside of a factory. The audience is given this incredibly weird and off-putting image and it is quickly cut to reveal another snippet of a greater piece. The dancers receive my deepest admiration and Baush as well, but this documentary should have stayed with the pieces a while longer. Take time to breathe with the dances instead of cutting through as many as possible without examination. The documentary suffers from a lack of focus which could be attributed to the fact of Baush dying only a few days after she had revealed to her loved ones that she had cancer. A shock like that would throw the center off assuredly, but due to this being a documentary, maybe sharing that information would have helped.

Wings of Desire (1987)

Wenders produced a masterpiece with this story of angels in Berlin watching over humans. He infused beauty, humor and love, without pretention, into a setting that includes a circus with an introspective trapeze artist, angels outfitted in trench coats trading the details of human activities, Peter Falk playing himself and unexpectedly, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for good measure. To be so personally affected by a film that I literally cry throughout the whole picture while also laughing is a gift. In other hands and with other players this film would have been trite; the magic Wenders worked cannot be understated.
I have never before and will probably never again view such a life affirming film. It’s absurd in a way that a story taking place in a dingy, ripped-apart city with the most fraught past could exude such wonderment. Starting the film with an old man singing and writing on paper, “Als das Kind Kind war…” “When the child was a child…” is the main point of the entire story. Live with childlike wonder and openness, live “Now, now, NOW!” as Damiel the angel (Bruno Ganz) says.

Wenders’ use of black and white interspersed with the most blinding, enrapturing color is dazzling. A bold instance of color finds Marion (Solveig Dommartin) sitting on her bed after flying on the trapeze, musing about life. Her inner thoughts are philosophical, dark and confused. “Emptiness. Fear. Fear. Fear.” Troubling thoughts perhaps but laced with “the desire to love.” Marion broods yet moves on, accepts her sadness, works with it and hopes for better things. The beauty of human vulnerability and the ability to imagine better days is highlighted by the bursts of color throughout the film.

When Damiel first experiences blood he happily licks it and smiles, “It has a taste!” To find delight in such a thing is childlike but also needed. To examine and experience the happiness of surprise is an act we do not engage in enough. Damiel does not always live in the moment, as when he sits in the empty field where the Alekan Circus had been parked. He yearns for Marion feeling the sadness of being just a little bit too late. Cassiel the angel (Otto Sander) looks over him with compassion, knowing that he will return to the present moment to soldier forth. Longing is the reason why Damiel became human in the first place, so his frustration is poignant and well placed. 

Special note must be made about Peter Falk’s participation as himself. This is not stunt casting; his performance is sweet sincere perfection. His interactions as a famous man acting graciously with movie extras, “extra people” as his inner-voice calls them, are wonderful. He asks an older woman permission to sketch her picture. He does a nice job yet inside he thinks to himself, “Someday you’ll make a good drawing. I hope, I hope, I hope…” His doubt in his artistic abilities is very reassuring. Even Peter Falk doubts himself, one of the great actors! Falk’s normalizing part is played with humbleness and abundant glee. When Damiel exclaims, “I want to know everything!” Peter replies with a crinkly smile, “That you have to find out yourself. That’s the fun of it.”

Writing about this film can veer into sentimental territory; to watch it and realize the splendor and sorrow of life is sublime. I find the image of a woman sitting alone in a laundromat supremely moving. The orange machines stretch out before her as she sits. This is life and it is gorgeous. So mundane, so lonely, but to be alive, to see orange washings machines! Ah, it is fantastic!


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