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ONE DAY PINA ASKED… a film by CHANTAL AKERMAN. 1983. France. 57 min. The Belgian auteur follows the trailblazing choreographer Pina Bausch on her tireless quest for love.

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Throughout March, we’re showing five films that celebrate dance, cinema, and their shared art of movement. Each film’s distinct approach to the medium attests to its inexpressible wonder, with films by Belgian master Chantal Akerman, New York filmmakers Jeff Preiss and Diane Martel, experimental mainstay Henry Hills, French dancer-turned-filmmaker Damien Manivel, and rising London talent Jacob Lee.

 

Early into Chantal Akerman’s One Day Pina Asked…, the narrator says the film “is more than a documentary about Pina Bausch’s work.” She elaborates, “it’s a journey through her world, through her tireless quest for love.” Shot in Akerman’s trademark style, which privileges the act of sitting with and feeling time, her film about the trailblazing German choreographer collects a series of snippets that outline the ineffable feeling of witnessing her subject’s creations instead of describing them.

 

Commissioned as an installment for a European television series on modern dance, One Day Pina Asked… follows the then-rising Bausch and her dance company on a five week tour across Europe. Bringing together interviews with the company’s members and excerpts from their performances of Come Dance with Me (1977), Carnations (1982), Walzer (1982), and 1980 (1980), the film deals in pithy moments that communicate the manifold emotions present in each of Bausch’s choreographies.

 

 

“For the documentaries now, they want it to be more and more defined, and I absolutely cannot define things. So I circle around it. I write around the film, around the hole, let’s say, or around the void. Because I want to go make a documentary without knowing what I’m doing. They always demand, ‘Tell us what you’re going to do.’ And all I can tell you is that I just don’t know. It’s precisely because of this lack of knowledge that there can be a film.” CHANTAL AKERMAN

 

Central to One Day Pina Asked… is Akerman’s own inability to articulate how Bausch’s performances make her feel and thus, whether her images are even able to convey that nameless feeling. Near the beginning of the film she says, “I feel like the images we brought back don’t do [the performances] justice.” Her comments question whether any image can do any act justice, but what is certain and shines through in Akerman’s work, is that with enough time emotions reveal themselves regardless of whether we can name them.

 

Chantal Akerman (1950 – 2015) was a filmmaker with a singular understanding of images and time. Her masterwork Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) was recently named “the greatest film of all time” in Sight and Sound’s famous poll. Films such as La Chambre (1972), Je tu il elle (1974), and News From Home (1976) are also cinematic classics. To quote film critic J. Hoberman, she was “arguably the most important European director of her generation.”

 

Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.