Since 1985, when he first saw her “Café Müller“ performed, writer/director Wim Wenders ("Wings of Desire," "Buena Vista Social Club") formed a friendship with Tanztheater Wuppertal dance director Pina Bausch. They began talking about collaborating, but Wenders could not find the right approach. When 3D technology reemerged, he found his answer - put the viewer right inside her work. Even after her death in 2009 just two days before they were to begin filming, Wenders continued with her troupe, using dance with a minimal amount of interview and archival footage to pay tribute to the legendary choreographer "Pina."
Who would have thought it would be members of the New German Cinema of the 1970s who would bring 3D technology to the art house? After Werner Herzog employed the technology to show off cave paintings, along comes Wim Wenders upping the ante with an incredibly ambitious technical achievement which found him solving problems Jim Cameron hadn't with "Avatar." "Pina" is a profoundly beautiful work of art in its own right as it celebrates an innovative modern dance icon. This, along with "Nostalgia for the Light," is one of the two most unique and best documentaries of 2011.
Wenders uses the proscenium arch of the theater to open and close his work and we can feel the space that is about to be inhabited. In the first of her works performed, the primal “Le Sacre du printemps," the use of peat on stage gives texture and depth. The camera glides amidst the dancers, a sheer curtain comes between us and one of them and we feel we can reach out and touch it. The film immediately lets those of us unfamiliar with Bausch's work see why it was so revolutionary.
The dance troupe performs in a type of happy parade reminiscent of a New Orleans funeral procession, an image which occasionally repeats in different environments. After introducing us to them en masse, we meet individuals who sometimes talk briefly about Pina and how she influenced them and their work. They perform solos and duets to express their feelings about her in a park, on an escalator, by a swimming pool, on a busy street, within a glass cube and en pointe in an industrial park. Pina used her dancers' creative input to build her pieces, asking a dancer to use movement to express different feelings and concepts. We see her occasionally in old archival footage, working with the dancers, smoking a cigarette. Wenders uses some very creative transitional devices and when he gets to “Café Müller," a work where dancers try to connect working through strewn chairs acting as obstacles, he juxtaposes the new work with footage featuring Pina herself. Wenders used Pina's set designer, Peter Pabst, as the art director on this film and shows him discussing the “Café Müller" set in front of a scale model set on a pedestal out of doors - but look, the dance comes to life within the model!
Pina's dance works used repetitive movements, props and even song and speech, the latter of which, if experienced for the first time here, is such a radical element one can understand how the choreographer's work shook up the art world. She often said new things with old pieces, such as restaging “Kontakthof,” in which dancers line the walls of a dance hall, with senior citizens (Wenders gives us a sampling). The director saves perhaps her most dazzling piece for last. ”Vollmond“ allows its dancers to express all manner of things with its on stage crater and running water and Wenders captures it in all its exuberance - at one moment we could be watching a fountain, at another, struggle.
"Pina's" technical team of stereographer Alain Derobe and cinematographer Hélène Louvart ("Ma Mère," "The Beaches of Agnès") deserve tremendous credit, giving voice as they do to an outstanding creative team that both comprises and celebrates their subject. This is a stunning film, a glorious homage to modern dance and one of its premier authors and the best justification of 3D technology to date.
Robin gives "Pina" an A-.
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