Like I said the other day, the innerworkings of the things that rule our lives are a dominant theme in the films at the Toronto Film Festival.
Not just the obvious powers that be like politics, as in "The Ides of March," or baseball, as in "Moneyball." But other endeavors whose impact is more subtle. Like the arts.
Dance, for example, as in Wim Wenders's 3D documentary "Pina" about Pina Bausch, the late choreographer and director of the experimental Tanztheatr Wuppertal, and which is now the second 3D documentary, after Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" made by a German auteur.
Now I'm more of a sports fan than a dance aficionado, and modern dance in particular strikes me as more or less the kind of thing Miranda July is doing in "The Future." But whether it's the 3D, which draws you into the action a lot more than it does in, say, "Conan the Barbarian" or "Happy Feet," or the clarity and specificity with which Wenders shows how each work is put together and why, I found myself being immersed in and deeply moved by performances that I would perhaps have otherwise rejected as the behavior of especially athletic patients in a mental hospital.
Plus, seeing this film shortly after "Moneyball," it occurred to me that avant garde ballet bears more than a little resemblance to baseball. At least that's a comparison that comes to mind watching Scott Hatteberg learning how to play first base in the latter movie. "Moneyball" director Bennett Miller made a similar point at the press conference for the film when he explained how the sport was an art form as much as it was a ruthless billion dollar industry. "Baseball has its own beautiful language," he insisted. "One that can communicate something that words cannot."
Sounds kind of like the point Wim Wenders was making when I interviewed him about "Pina," which he informed me had just been selected as Germany's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar candidate. Wenders recalled that when he first encountered the Tanztheatr some 35 years ago was as unappreciative and ignorant about the art of dance as I had been before seeing the movie. But not for long. "I was flabbergasted," he said. " I realized that it related in many ways to cinema. Both arts work with actors and tell them what to do. And as film directors we deal with body language, but dance is all body language. When I saw Pina's art for the first time and was confronted with her ways of working I realized that in the field of body language I was a beginner, almost illiterate in comparison to how exactly she could see and decipher that language.
"I was shocked that this woman could show me more about men and women in 38 minutes than I have seen in the entire history of cinema. In film we have sets, locations, stars, and stories. If you strip those things away all you have left is the body. And she showed that what you can relate with just the body is much more than I thought possible."
It's unlikely that Hollywood will be doing away sets, stars, stories, and all the other costly paraphernalia they see as necessary for a production. Even Wenders needed to employ 3D technology to get through to philistines like myself. Maybe instead they should think about adding something as well. Brilliant female artists like Bausch, for example. Though the movies I've seen so far in Toronto have almost all been winners, not many have been by women, or even about women. Not those from the Hollywood studios, that is. But for films coming from outside Hollywood, it's another story.