NYFF 2011: ‘Pina’ / ‘Policeman’

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Pina

Written and Directed by Wim Wenders

Germany / France / UK, 2011

Policeman

Written and Riected by Nadav Lapid

Israel, 2011

Growing up, my younger sister was an incredibly talented semi-professional dancer, and because of that I have seen more dance performances than I can count. I like to think that my forced exposure to the art form over the years has left me with a discerning eye and critical acumen for discussing the mechanics and aesthetics of physical movement. But in actuality, it has just made me a total snob.

So really the highest praise I can lavish on Pina, Wim Wender’s 3-D documentary tribute to the great German choreographer Pina Bausch, is that it disarmed my considerable pretensions, and at times left me completely breathless. Restaging some of Bausch’s best-known pieces, including Café Mueller and Kontakthof, the moves captured on screen are primal gestures, with limbs swinging violently on the hinges of the joints. Bausch envisioned dance as the body in tumult, whipping away from itself and then retreating back to its core, giving form to that combination of repulsion and attraction at the heart of all desire.

Wender’s use of 3-D is exquisite, done with great care to not just layer the image, but to actually project on screen the distance between the different dancer’s bodies that is so key to each piece. Many of the pieces incorporate natural elements – soil, water – into the action. In “Le sacre du printemps,” dancers writhe violently atop a think layer of dirt, kicking it into the air, turning the negative space between the groupings of performers – one male, one female – into a charged arena of sexual tension.

If one small slight can be leveled against the film, it is that Wenders can never fully close the gap between the two mediums he is working with, dance and cinema. While the larger segments are kept to their original setting, a stage, smaller chunks are adapted out into real-world locations. These adaptations give the camera a degree of freedom it doesn’t have in a theater, allowing it to interact with the environment, but some of the power of the dancer’s movement is lost. Conversely, when the pieces are confined to the stage, it is impossible to shake the feeling that we are meant to be viewing the dancers from afar, not with the camera gliding right up alongside them. It is a complaint, but a minor one, and one that for most of Pina I couldn’t even remember to hold on to.

****

Besides, what sin is a little friction between mediums when so many other films are dull and bordering on offensive? Take Policeman, for instance – a bland, tiresomely sanctimonious Israeli film that follows both a tightly knit government anti-terrorism squad in Tel Aviv, and a group of socialist revolutionaries plotting a kidnapping of a wealthy family.

Policeman is a deeply confused film, ostensibly offering a critique of Israel’s hyper-masculine warrior culture – the policemen are testosterone-fueled oafs, and there is more than one suggestive stroking of a handgun – but at the same time making heroes out of the personifications of that culture. It is as if a nation’s identity crisis has been captured in sapped, stagnant images.

It is important to mention that the revolutionaries/terrorists are Jewish and Israeli citizens, because the film insidiously thinks that this is what makes them worthy subjects. They are the only non-governmental combatants given faces, even though assassinations of Palestinians are both discussed and shown from a distance. The film denies any sort of agency to the Arabs killed, but it holds a prolonged shot of blood leaking out of a young woman’s face, framed by blond curls. Apparently violence is only worth reflecting on when it damages people who look like you. As the credits rolled, an older, Jewish, female film critic (for a well-known publication) sitting in front of me buried her head in her hands and muttered, “Oy vey.”

Louis Godfrey

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