Movie Monthly: Breaking Boundaries
Two films are due to open this month that bring the wizardry of digital cinema to the arthouse with stunning results. Firstly there's Wim Wenders Pina 3D (due out on 27th), a portrait of the work of the celebrated German choreographer Pina Bausch.
Pina was a film that almost didn't get made. On 30th June 2009, only two days before the planned 3D rehearsal shoot, its subject Pina Bausch suddenly died. After a period of mourning, Wenders decided to go ahead with a “memoir”, showcasing Bausch's theatrical choreography and the muscular grace of the dancers from Bausch's internationally diverse Tanztheater Wuppertal.
The core of the film, and where the 3D cinematography really comes into its own, are live performances of four of Bausch's choreographed pieces. The 3D gives the stage depth and it's almost like being among the performers at times. The dancing is mesmerising, from the explosive, shape-shifting movement of the opening “The Rite of Spring”, performed on a carpet of peat, to the exuberant “Vollmond” where the dancers cavort on a stage swimming with water (a stage electrician's nightmare, no doubt).
Archive footage of Bausch performing her signature piece the minimalist “Café Müller”, with its at times scrabbly, fidgety movement, is juxtaposed with a later 3D performance shot after her death. In the fourth piece “Kontakthof”, the filmmaker's hand is much in evidence with jump cuts between different generations of performers mid-performance.
Bausch rarely gave verbal advice (the occasions that she did are cherished by the dancers like gold nuggets). She preferred to show. Similarly, Wenders has the dancers express themselves in movement – in a street, a factory, a swimming pool, or a woodland with a leaf-blower blasting - accentuating their otherworldliness. These are intercut with brief interviews with the dancers: Pina had a “penetrating gaze” says one; when performing, she should could see you even with her eyes shut, says another.
The loss still seems fresh as the dancers remember their mentor with awe and gratitude. I came out of the cinema thinking I really must see more dance.
The second film breaking new boundaries is The Mill & the Cross, which steps inside 1564 painting “Way to Calvary” by Flemish master Pieter Bruegel. The painting/film, sets Christ's crucifixion in Flanders during a period of thuggish Spanish repression.
Polish director Lech Majewski's imagining, based on the book by Michael Francis Gibson, tells the stories of a dozen characters from the busy canvas of 500 individuals. The script, which uses little dialogue, stays loyal to the spirit of the painting: surreal scenes take us inside the windmill that features atop a high precipice in the painting and Bruegel (Rutger Hauer) describes to his friend/art collector Nicholas Jonghelinck (Michael York) how he has painted the tragedy of religious persecution epitomised by the figure of Virgin Mary (a mournful Charlotte Rampling).
Majewski used different techniques to merge art and real life. Actors were shot against a blue screen so that they could be later superimposed in craggy landscapes shot on location and against a large version of Bruegel’s work (painted by Majewski). The stylised backdrop is sufficiently subtle that your awareness of being “in” the painting ebbs and flows. It's an unusual film, but rewarding.