Monday, February 20, 2012

Short Take: "Nostalgia for the Light" and "Pina".

The Atacama Desert occupies over forty thousand square miles of northern Chile and is known for being the driest desert in the world. Its elements have been compared to Martial soil because absolutely no living organism could thrive in it. Director Patricio Guzmán argues that it's in this desolate place where the universe has created a portal where the past, present and perhaps even the future run into each other, but fear not, this isn't a sci-fi film, instead what the director creates is a moving non-fiction essay that contemplates our existence and how passing time is both tragic and solacing.
Guzmán is a child of the Chilean revolution and as such he tells in detail how his country went from being an exemplary land to a hell where people were murdered or kidnapped if they opposed the system. The documentary interweaves three different stories: we have Guzmán's observations and soulful narration, testimonials from concentration camp survivors and the families of those who never returned home, and there's also interviews with astronomers who run the observation sites in the Atacama desert, all of whom have more in common with each other than they would've guessed.
Guzmán makes a strange, if remarkably convincing case, about how all these people are united by history and the creation of the universe (this film would make a superb companion piece to The Tree of Life) and the director also displays an expert's eye for bending elements of real life into a narrative that's absolutely spellbinding and profound. In all of its essay-glory best, the film proves that Guzmán is as deft a creator as any supernatural force.

Pina Bausch was a pioneer choreographer who updated the concept of Tanztheater: a complex combination of movements and staggering sets which brought a new sensibility to the concept of modern dance. Bausch's longtime friend Wim Wenders had wanted to make a documentary about her life but she passed away a few days before shooting commenced. The project was then rescued by her pupils, who seem to have an utmost faith in their instructor, and the result is Pina, a wonderful nonfiction film that works as a supreme showcase of her legacy.
The film consists of several breathtaking setpieces in which the dancers display unbelievable physical skills, as well as a mystifying unity with their surroundings. Several moments have us rub our eyes in disbelief as we see deft dancers jump over a gargantuan boulder as if it was nothing but a step high, and some other moments explore the duality of the sexes by having a frail-looking female dancer use her humongous arms to do delicate moves (but this one has a twist so be ready to gasp). What remains persistent throughout each setpiece is the way in which Bausch found beauty in all her dancers; from the young and slender ones, to the ones whose faces are so rugged as to suggest they're "has-beens" in the age obsessed world of the arts,  you wonder then if Pina, more than a teacher was a spiritual guide who helped these people transcend the confines of mortality through her choreography.

Nostalgia for the Light ***½
Pina ***

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