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Movies: Pina and Shame

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Movies: Pina and Shame

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Fassy torso
I think I can only explain my response to Shame by telling you about the movie I saw Christmas evening with my parents: Pina by Win Wenders, which is a documentary about the recently deceased German choreography Pina Bausch.

My mother took me to see Bausch a few times in the 80s and 90s, and when bits of the dances I saw then came up on the screen they seemed as familiar as if I’d seen them last week, instead of several decades ago, they had made that powerful an impression on me—I still think they may be the most powerful live performances I’ve ever seen.

I think I expected a more straightforward documentary, but it's not that. Wenders had set out to make a movie about Bausch, but before he could start filming, she’d died suddenly. Rather than canceling, he went ahead and made a movie that is basically about her dancers’ response to her death—both in words, and in movement. Not much time has passed, so their response it pretty raw and unformed, and so it’s a very beautiful, powerful, and yes, extremely sad movie, but kind of inchoate. (my mom and I loved it, my dad utterly and furiously bored).

What’s interesting is that you start to see how dependent the dances Bausch made were on the kinds of relationships she cultivated with her dancers—they had to be intensely close, and she had to recruit the kinds of dancers who were interested in a kind of physical and emotional brinksmanship—who would do endless trust falls and leaps, and who would dance in mud or water or with their eyes closed. She’s one of those choreographers who was interested less in the how dancers looked than in how they moved (and so her dancers are older, younger, less symmetrically formed, etc., than you see even in some modern dance troops. This is an aesthetic I love).

Here’s the trailer:

So, I think when I saw Shame the next day, I was in an way less struck by the content of the film than by the ongoing McQueen/Fassbender collaboration (which I'm fascinated by anyway), and the qualities it shared with what I’d seen the night before—the same interest in physical and emotional brinksmanship, with the level of visceral expressiveness one is able to convey (the school of dance Bausch belongs to is often called “Expressionism”).

Because, as with Hunger, McQueen could never have made the movie without an actor who was will to go to the lengths of (seeming) self-exposure that Fassbender is (and no, I’m not just talking about the Fassdong, truly impressive as that is). And Fassbender wouldn’t have been able to deliver the performance he does without a director who he seems to love and trust and who knows how to push him into the kinds of physical expression of emotional states he does here (cf. whoever directed Jane Eyre). As with Hunger, there are long stretches where Fassy doesn’t say a word, just stares, or runs, or cries, you, y’know, fucks anything that moves.

In some ways, then, the form is more impressive than the content. I don’t think Shame is quite as good a movie as Hunger, partly because the narrative comes very close to a conventional morality tale about empty sex being evil, and partly because it’s trying to portray real uncertainty and weakness, and that comes across as basically a manpain marathon. But it’s still haunting and powerful and well-worth seeing, even if it too is very, very sad.

  • LOL.

    Yes, Cary Fukunaga could have done much more with the Fass than he did in Jane Eyre, but he was too self-involved with his muse, Mia Wasi-something, so it devolved into closeups of her face, screeching violins and heavy breathing (for what seemed like days).

    But he's also just a kid.

    I like what you're saying re: McQueen/Fass collaboration.
    • I think I saw Fassy in JE before I saw him in anything else, and just thought, what's all the fuss about this guy? But it's a strangely muted (and fully clothed) version of him. But yes, perhaps when Fukunaga grows up a bit he won't be scared to unleash the Fass.

      The McQueen/Fass collaboration is fascinating--on both an intellectual and emotional level--the way they interact, and talk about each other--I think Fass has already signed up for a part (but not one of the leads) in Twelve Years a Slave.
  • (my mom and I loved it, my dad utterly and furiously bored).

    LOL This was my experience with the family Christmas viewing of Mission Impossible: The One With Jeremy Renner too.

    I am just not up for very, very sad at the moment - I'm in that place where I crave a steady diet of big, dumb, action movies- but I'll keep these in mind for when I'm in the right mood.
    • Mission Impossible: The One With Jemermy Renner--see, this is the reason I am thinking of breaking my Cruise-ban and taking the boys to see it--does it have a lot of swearing and sex (we are, sadly, okay with guns and explosions, but not extended torture scenes)?

      I hear you--I have only recently been up for seeing sad or disturbing movies again, and Shame is definitely both. Big dumb action movies are awesome.

      • I find that while Tom Cruise's public face is almost unbearably obnoxious to me, I almost always enjoy his performances. I'm given to understand that he does the bulk of his own stunt work, which was pretty awesome here.

        I don't recall much swearing -- though I have the mouth of a sailor and no little pitchers to worry about, so I may have missed something. There's a little innuendo and some fully-clothed kissing, but nothing that I'd expect to necessitate a Talk that you weren't planning to have yet.

        There's no torture, though there are some on-screen deaths and some of the fight/stunt fall scenes are pretty intense, though not particularly bloody. Overall, I'd say the level of violence is roughly on a par with one of the more whump-heavy episodes of H50.
        • No, I agree--he can be an awesome actor to watch, especially in action movies. Thanks for the info--it definitely sounds like something I could take them too!
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