(2011)4.5Nathan SouthernThe playwright-stage director André Gregory once spoke of the works of art that consciously set out to interpret others -- such as the color glossies of his own stage play Alice in Wonderland shot by Richard Avedon -- and observed that each derivation should be judged not on the basis of its source material, but as a unique and independent artistic creation, possessor of its own strengths and weaknesses. That may be a sound argument in most cases, but it doesn't really apply to Wim Wenders' Pina, the celebrated German director's homage to the late choreographer Pina Bausch. The documentary -- a series of imaginatively staged dance numbers intercut with headshot interviews featuring members of Bausch's ensemble and archival clips of Bausch -- feels inseparably intertwined with the dance visionary's work. Accordingly, Wenders uses cinematic techniques and tricks not to express his own voice, but to draw out some intrinsic qualities of her choreography in inventive ways that take unprecedented advantage of the film form.
The documentary itself, of course, has been heavily publicized for its use of 3D imagery, and it does force the audience to reconsider that technique, to look at it from a different (and slightly deeper) angle. Most contemporary 3D Hollywood films use the device to foster the illusions of people and things projected toward the audience, kinesthetically -- one reason that 3D is so suited for action and adventure sagas. Wenders, on the other hand, uses it in an abrechtian way, to create and sustain the impression of "layered depth" on the screen. During the film's early stages, the interviews convey the dancers' insights that Bausch's work brought them more intimately in touch with their feelings, prompting them to explore the emotional spectrum belying the dances and make those nuances more alive, vibrant, and palpable for the audience. Ingeniously, then, because of the 3D, the dancers seem to exist apart from the elaborate sets, and appear to have popped out of the background, along with their emotions. To put it another way: Wenders has devised a nearly perfect visual corollary for the film's thesis about what performing in Bausch's work meant to the dancers.
Wenders enlists another interesting device by taking many of the Bausch dances outside of the proscenium. He stages numbers in everyday locations, including one of the upper platforms of a metro rail, inside one of the elevated subway cars, and on the median of a busy German street. This forces the audience to reassess Bausch's work within a contemporary context, driving home its relevance and immediacy amid our day-to-day reality.
The film, as noted, also etches out a biographical portrait of Bausch, and here its minimalism and profundity go hand-in-hand. Presumably to avoid the pitfall of oversimplified homilies about Pina and sustain ambiguity, Wenders begins interpolating silent close-ups of the dancers, standing in a fixed position and staring into the camera. Like the finest work of Danish documentarian Anne Wivel -- with whose Giselle this film withstands comparison -- these shots hit us with numerous emotions, some of them contradictory, that tumble through the dancers' minds and spill onto their faces, as the artists reflect internally and wordlessly on Pina and what she meant to them. We then find ourselves reading that same level of emotional complexity into the dances themselves.
To be certain, Pina will be most admired by dance enthusiasts and experts, but anyone who relishes the beautiful and the sublime will find much to cherish here -- not least of all the unfettered admiration of Bausch and the deep-seated comprehension of her work that Wenders brings to the fore. Tragically, the choreographer didn't live to see the finished product, but it seems certain and she would have been both humbled and honored by the treatment afforded her here.
Pina Bausch was one of Europe's most celebrated choreographers, fusing the discipline of ballet with the freedom of modern dance and approaching her material in a bold, innovative and emotionally compelling manner. Bausch made the acquaintance of German filmmaker Wim Wenders, and he began making a documentary about her life and work. The focus of Wenders' film shifted dramatically in 2009, when Bausch was diagnosed with cancer and died only a few days later. Wenders considered abandoning the project, but after meeting with the members of her dance company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, Wenders chose instead to create a cinematic interpretation of Bausch's art, preserving several of her pieces and the work of her dancers for the ages. Pina is the result, a performance film that takes several of Bausch's dance pieces into the open and celebrates the beauty and physicality of dance; the film was shot in 3D to give a greater sense of the power and interplay of bodies in motion. Pina received its North American premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.