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Die Klage der Kaiserin

(The Plaint of the Empress)

By Pina Bausch

L’Arche Editeur, August 2011

ISBN: 9782851817563

Pina Bausch, La Plainte de l'Impératrice

This is Pina Bausch’s only genuine film – as distinct from, say, a film recording of a dance that had previously been performed on stage – and it can best be described as a strange and surreal mess.

Dance figures prominently, as you would expect, and there is music throughout; but the action takes place off-stage: in woods and buses, on hills and rooftops…  There are jump cuts, close-ups and other cinematic devices.  A close-up of a woman’s face, wrinkles undisguised, as her younger lover’s fingers walk along it becomes, in Bausch’s hands, a dance in itself.

Some people have suggested that the film is about our connection with the earth and, yes, there is something to that.  Yet it’s also about the female body: how it is controlled and tamed and presented.  It is about both of these (related?) orientations at once.  Take the woodland scene where the tree trunks are numbered, prior to being timbered; and then compare it with the one where the bride severely cinches the belt on her wedding dress, counting on her fingers how many seconds she can keep it that tight without fainting.

Adventures crazy and images weird are everywhere to be seen, most centreing on culling/slaughter or birth/regeneration.  A woman squeezes milk from her own breasts and then slurps it up.  Her sister runs in high heels, lost and crying for her mother, as Billie Holliday sings ‘Strange Fruit’.  One of my favourite scenes sees a shepherdess tending her flock in evening dress and heels, whilst swigging from a bottle and holding a black lamb in her arms.  Later we see her comatose on the ground, her flock milling and spilling around her.  It reminds you of one of Brueghel’s proverb paintings.

In short, it is a poetic film: many images will stay with you, teasing and delighting the mind, but there isn’t a narrative as such, so don’t go looking for one.  Also, when dance does occur – the tango in midsection where we see just see legs and red shoes or the joyous turn that ends the film, a calypso song on the jukebox – it is terrific.

Open the accompanying booklet and you’ll see some black and white film stills, an impressionistic synopsis of the film, plus various photos taken of Pina Bausch as she worked on it.  Furthermore, there is an interview with her which took place in 1990, shortly after the film was released.  She talks mainly about her approach to cinema.

All in all, it’s an attractive and worthwhile package.

The publisher’s description of the DVD and booklet can be read here.

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