Since 1985, when he first saw her “Café Müller“ performed, writer/director Wim Wenders ("Wings of Desire," "Buena Vista Social Club") formed a friendship with Tanztheater Wuppertal dance director Pina Bausch. They began talking about collaborating, but Wenders could not find the right approach. When 3D technology reemerged, he found his answer - put the viewer right inside her work. Even after her death in 2009 just two days before they were to begin filming, Wenders continued with her troupe, using dance with a minimal amount of interview and archival footage to pay tribute to the legendary choreographer "Pina."
Laura's Review: A
Who would have thought it would be members of the New German Cinema of the 1970s who would bring 3D technology to the art house? After Werner Herzog employed the technology to show off cave paintings, along comes Wim Wenders upping the ante with an incredibly ambitious technical achievement which found him solving problems Jim Cameron hadn't with "Avatar." "Pina" is a profoundly beautiful work of art in its own right as it celebrates an innovative modern dance icon. This, along with "Nostalgia for the Light," is one of the two most unique and best documentaries of 2011. Wenders uses the proscenium arch of the theater to open and close his work and we can feel the space that is about to be inhabited. In the first of her works performed, the primal “Le Sacre du printemps," the use of peat on stage gives texture and depth. The camera glides amidst the dancers, a sheer curtain comes between us and one of them and we feel we can reach out and touch it. The film immediately lets those of us unfamiliar with Bausch's work see why it was so revolutionary. The dance troupe performs in a type of happy parade reminiscent of a New Orleans funeral procession, an image which occasionally repeats in different environments. After introducing us to them en masse, we meet individuals who sometimes talk briefly about Pina and how she influenced them and their work. They perform solos and duets to express their feelings about her in a park, on an escalator, by a swimming pool, on a busy street, within a glass cube and en pointe in an industrial park. Pina used her dancers' creative input to build her pieces, asking a dancer to use movement to express different feelings and concepts. We see her occasionally in old archival footage, working with the dancers, smoking a cigarette. Wenders uses some very creative transitional devices and when he gets to “Café Müller," a work where dancers try to connect working through strewn chairs acting as obstacles, he juxtaposes the new work with footage featuring Pina herself. Wenders used Pina's set designer, Peter Pabst, as the art director on this film and shows him discussing the “Café Müller" set in front of a scale model set on a pedestal out of doors - but look, the dance comes to life within the model! Pina's dance works used repetitive movements, props and even song and speech, the latter of which, if experienced for the first time here, is such a radical element one can understand how the choreographer's work shook up the art world. She often said new things with old pieces, such as restaging “Kontakthof,” in which dancers line the walls of a dance hall, with senior citizens (Wenders gives us a sampling). The director saves perhaps her most dazzling piece for last. ”Vollmond“ allows its dancers to express all manner of things with its on stage crater and running water and Wenders captures it in all its exuberance - at one moment we could be watching a fountain, at another, struggle. "Pina's" technical team of stereographer Alain Derobe and cinematographer Hélène Louvart ("Ma Mère," "The Beaches of Agnès") deserve tremendous credit, giving voice as they do to an outstanding creative team that both comprises and celebrates their subject. This is a stunning film, a glorious homage to modern dance and one of its premier authors and the best justification of 3D technology to date.
Robin's Review: B+
Pierrepoint” is a beautifully crafted period piece of a subject that has had little study in films – capital punishment through the eye of the executioner. Albert, despite the toll the job took on his father who drank himself to an early grave, thinks that he can juggle his death-giving job and a normal life outside the prisons. He meets and marries Anne (Juliet Stevenson) but keeps his job a secret, even to her. He goes through the paces of his gruesome job with both efficiency and compassion as he sends his “clients” off to a better world. “They’re innocent, now,” he exclaims after he pulls the lever that sends the prisoners to his death. Albert’s efficiency at his job earns him the status of premier hangman in Britain. This fame, though, has its price, when he loses his anonymity to celebrity. He plies his trade through the 1930s and into the war years of the ‘40s, which brings him to the attention of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery as the war ends and the Nuremburg trials begin. Monty wants Albert to take on the task of executing convicted Nazis and Pierrepoint sees it as an enormous opportunity. He does not know, however, that the job will have him killing at a rate he could never imagine before. On his first day on the job in Germany, he is required to execute no fewer than 13 war criminals. The numbers increase, over the ensuing weeks, to staggering proportions, causing Pierrepoint to question the morality of his deadly acts. When he must execute a good friend, Tish (Eddie Marsan), it is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The real turning point for Pierrepoint comes after the war when the death penalty is closely scrutinized by the public’s eye. “Capital punishment…achieved nothing but revenge,” Albert is to say later. This sentiment runs rampant throughout post war Britain and Albert, once a hero, is now considered a monster. Pierrepoint suffers from the same angst, multiplied, that drove his father to the bottle. Timothy Spall gives a tour de force performance in his portrayal of Albert Pierrepoint. Albert is imbued with compassion for his wards as he strives to make their suffering in the end as brief as possible. However, he is also obsessed (the sin of pride) with breaking his father’s 12-second execution record, eventually doing a hanging in a remarkable 7-seconds. His obsession for efficiency eventually overtakes his desire for compassion. With over 600 executions over a 22-year period, the grueling pace through the years exacts its toll on the man. Spall’s is a performance that will be remembered come year’s end for its subtlety and nuance. Juliet Stevenson also gives a powerful performance as Albert’s wife, Anne. She does not want to know about his job and is happy to live a life of comfort and ignorance. When she talks him into buying a pub, she capitalizes on his fame even though this is tearing him apart. Like Spall, hers is a performance that deserves note. The rest of the supporting cast, especially Eddie Marsden as the pathetic Tish, is solid all around. Helmer Adrian Shergold and company do a fine job in telling Albert’s story and give “Pierrepoint” the look and feel of the time and place. Each execution, though always with the same outcome, is uniquely handled and never feels routine. His execution of Ruth Ellis, the last woman executed in England, is done with gut-wrenching emotion. Production, from the gallows to life in pre- and post-war Britain, is expertly handled with a realistic look. Pierrepoint” is not an easy film to watch. Its subject matter is one of formal barbarism as lives are snuffed with clinical efficiency by the title character. It is a scathing indictment against capital punishment and anyone who feels that such legalized murder is right and just needs to see it. There is a great deal of food for thought in a film that personalizes the effects of the death penalty on both the executed and the executioner.