Right off the bat, you need to understand that one need not be a fan of dance in order to enjoy all that 'Pina' has to offer. Yes, a knowledge of modern dance history and/or being a dancer yourself will make you appreciate the talent exemplified here, but 'Pina' is such a visually compelling film that you can wholeheartedly enjoy it without the slightest knowledge of dance.
'Pina' is listed as a documentary, but it's far from being a documentary in the traditional sense. I compare it to the recent string of concert movies like 'Katy Perry: Part of Me' - it highlights the career of a groundbreaking artist. In the case of Pina Bausch, who unexpectedly passed away in 2009, it shows off her legacy through the iconic dances that she choreographed. The film isn't so much about her, as it is the art form that she created. Around the globe, she is known as the pioneer of modern dance. As explained by director Wim Wenders in the commentary track, starring many of the original performers that worked under her, this film is their way of mourning her loss, celebrating her achievements and serves as a farewell and a "thank you" to Pina.
What's interesting is how little dialog there is in this picture. 99 percent of the film is dialog-free. It opens with a blank stage, we see an imposed clip of archival footage showing Pina talk about dance, then it dissolves into a filled theater watching a revival production of one of Pina's most famous productions. Many of her dances are revived in the film, but are shown in two different ways: we observe it from the audience perspective or we are thrown in the middle of it from an realistically impossible vantage point – onstage. Wenders explains in his commentary that he and Pina had plans to make this movie throughout the years, but never felt that the time was right. The included booklet with the Blu-ray explains that when he first saw the new stereoscopic 3D in action with 'U2 3D,' he decided that there was finally a medium that could allow audiences to experience modern dance on film in a manner comparable to seeing it live. The answer was 3D. After Pina's passing, he felt the cathartic need to make the film in her memory.
Although the onstage footage is great in 2D, it's absolutely mesmerizing in 3D. The audience-perspective footage is great on its own, but the it's the onstage footage that shines. The format of the film goes back and forth from theatrically staged dances to shot-on-location solos to very occasional interview footage with the dancers. The interviews are brief and we go long intervals without seeing them, but they're done in a unique fashion. Instead of showing talking heads explaining what it was like working with Pina or performing the dances, we are shown single takes of the interviewees internally thinking about Pina. They don't say a word. The dialogue from an actual interview is played over these long takes like a voice-over. Not a single subject is ever shown speaking with the exception of one archival shot from 1975 of Pina giving direction during the rehearsal process.
As great as the staged moments of the film are, the shot-on-location solos are breathtaking. They exemplify the many different faces and forms that the organized chaos of modern dance encompasses. Each of the solos is set in location that compliment the beautiful dance taking place in front of it. These little vignettes are small pieces of perfection. Each one is unique and breathtaking, making them my absolute favorite parts of the film.
I only have two complaints with 'Pina.' First, despite carrying a 103-minute runtime, it feels long. Very long. Some of the dances contain too much footage and drag on longer than they should. Halfway through these abbreviated performances, I found myself thinking, 'I've seen enough of this dance to get the gist of what makes it beautiful and noteworthy. I'm now ready to see something else,' but they keep going on and on. Two-thirds of the way through the film, I was ready for the curtain to close.
My second complaint comes with the lack of information provided throughout the film. Before watching 'Pina,' I had no clue who Pina Bausch was. When the final credits began rolling, I still didn't know who Pina Bausch was. The interviews are so short and vague, sometimes not even talking about Pina, that I didn't walk away knowing anything about her. In fact, I didn't even know that she was deemed the pioneer of modern dance until after I watched the film and read the back of Blu-ray case. While reviewing the special features, I went back and re-watched a good chunk of the film with the director's commentary toggled. Everything that I should have learned about Pina while watching 'Pina' was found in this track – not in the film. What the film really needed was more informative voiced-over dialog.
If you appreciate dance, beautiful-looking Blu-rays, stunning visuals or simply want to "get some culture," then don't pass up 'Pina.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Pina' marks Criterion's first 3D Blu-ray release, number 644 in their collection. This set includes both a 2D Blu-ray of the film and a 3D Blu-ray of the film. The clear keepcase appears to be the Criterion standard when closed, but when you open it, you will see that the two discs uniquely overlap on the right side of disc, leaving the same amount of room as normal on the left side of the opened case from the larger-than-normal 37-page accompanying booklet. The booklet contains images from the shoot, cast and credits, transfer notes, two poems by Wenders, quotes from Pina herself and an essay about the film's production by Siri Hustvedt. On both the 2D and 3D discs, nothing plays before the main menu. The 3D disc's menu is featured in 3D.
The 3D 'Pina' transfer arrives on its own Region A BD-50 in a 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode that's presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 2D disc is identical, only with an AVC MPEG-4 encode. Both are crisp, clear and exceptionally noteworthy.
The 3D presentation is nearly flawless. Aside from a handful of shots that carry a light amount of digital noise, it's flawless and exemplary – the stuff that demo discs are made of. The depth that every single frame carries is staggering. It's obvious why Wenders was adamant about shooting in 3D; the film's 3D presentation is exactly like watching it live. The images stretch deeply into the background of the screen, giving the television the appearance of being a small proscenium arch that extends into a world behind it.
The details included in this presentation are rich. Textures are never blurred or unclear. One stage setting includes a several-inch-deep moist sandy surface. Individual clumps and even granules of sand can be seen as the dancers perform atop it. Another stage is covered in inch-deep water. Millions of beads of water can be seen soaring across the stage as the dancers cut loose within it. Hairs can be seen on the arms and shoulders of the dancers as they parade around the stages and settings. Nothing is missing. When I first popped in the 3D disc, I was certain that 'Pina' was shot on a large film stock, perhaps 70 mm, because of how fantastic, colorful and detailed it appeared – but it was actually shot digitally on three different Sony cameras. Luckily, both the 2D and 3D versions of the film carry this quality.
The only noticeable difference between the 3D and 2D discs was the amount of noise that made its way onto the 2D disc. It doesn't cripple the film in any way, but there are definitely more instances of it on the 2D disc than there on the 3D disc. None of the detail, colorization or dimensionality of the film are lost in the 2D version.
When it comes to dance – a typically speechless art form – music is the voice of the performers. Their movements mean nothing if they don't match the tone of the music. The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track of 'Pina' works perfectly alongside the great video transfer, conveying the dialog that the performers do not.
The music of 'Pina' is beautiful. It can seamlessly switch from chaotic melody-less jitter to traditional motifs and refrains. If you want to see a film that is able to convey the voices of performers who never open their mouths, watch 'Pina.' The music is perfectly mixed throughout all channels. Considering that music almost the only sound in the entire film, it is constantly full and dynamic.
Additional post-production effects are not added, so the only sounds featured are the few and far between clips of interview dialog. These segments always originate from the front channels and are perfectly crisp – which is exactly what you would expect from studio-recorded audio.
I do not profess to know much about modern dance. In fact, prior to watching 'Pina,' I steered away from the art form – but watching the film shows the potential of the unique style. Showing some of the most renowned performances to date, it plays out somewhat like a best-of reel – one that is exceptionally gorgeous. The 3D especially enhances the viewing experience, making this a perfect 3D demo disc. The 2D disc is still strong, but not as breathtaking as the 3D. The combination of great visuals and perfect audio makes 'Pina' a cut above the rest. While the film itself mostly relies on visuals, if you are left with a hankering for more knowledge about what you're watching, the best thing you can do is toggle the informative director's commentary. The special feature-heavy disc will give you everything you could want and more. I don't know modern dance and 'Pina' isn't a perfect film, but I'm especially happy that this disc is on my shelf.