REVIEW: Wim Wenders's 3-D Pina Makes Its Own Joyful Dance
Now that everyone has grown tired of touting the allegedly thrilling promise of 3-D, we may have some chance of figuring out exactly what its future might be. While I still think 3-D is almost less than a gimmick, I've come to think that its real promise lies not in big-budget filmmaking along the lines of The Adventures of Tintin or even a picture as wonderful as Hugo, but in the hands of directors working on a more modest scale who simply have a good idea and a spark of enthusiasm for the medium. Wim Wenders has brought that spark to a rather unlikely subject, the late German modern-dance choreographer Pina Bausch. For years, Wenders and Bausch, longtime friends, had been working on a movie together. Bausch died suddenly in 2009, at age 68, and Pina is Wenders's tribute to her, less a strict documentary than a heartfelt -- and visually gorgeous -- celebration of Bausch's work and her mode of working.
What's remarkable about Pina is how democratic it is, how casual it is about opening up the world of modern dance to people who know, or perhaps care, little about it. I'd always avoided Bausch, assuming it was all bony dancers in drab skintone leotards, miserably acting out the angst of mankind, or whatever. I now see how wrong I was. Some of Bausch's ideas may not result in anyone's idea of conventional (whatever that is) beauty: She might scatter the floor with dirt, which would mingle with the sweat clinging to the dancers' dresses, resulting in damp, mother-earth stains. A brawny man in a tutu, being pushed along slowly on a railway handcar, appears to be carrying some pretty heavy-duty German sorrow and guilt on his shoulders.
But Wenders makes it all seem accessible, framing and connecting images -- sometimes rather bizarre ones -- in a way that draws us closer rather than alienating us, without ever softening the intended effect. Pina mixes performance footage with interviews Wenders conducted with Bausch's longtime dancers. The form Wenders chooses for the latter takes a bit of getting used to: The dancers face the camera, mute and unmoving, while their words float out in voice-over. But the approach works. It's as if the dancers' unspoken, private thoughts are escaping into the world outside (not unlike the way those same thoughts might be expressed through dance). One dancer speaks of her shyness when she first joined the company. "You just have to get crazier!" Bausch said to her, and from what we can tell, she did. Another speaks simply of missing Bausch, not just as a choreographer and guide but as a presence. "Pina, I still haven't dreamed about you," she says plainly. "Please visit me in my dreams."
The performance footage in Pina includes portions of stage performances of works like Café Müller (in which the dancers stroll, drift and slide around the chairs and tables of a plain, small cafe, alone, together and alone-together) and, intriguingly, several dances staged outside, around the environs of Bausch's home base of Wuppertal (one dance takes place on a traffic island in the midst of an intersection, another on a city tram). The latter seem jarring and out-of-place only until you realize that they're a way of rooting Bausch and her work in a specific geographic location, as well as a way of recognizing that a dance can make itself at home anywhere.
I've always loved talking to dancers or reading dance critics on the subject of making a dance, the word "making" reinforcing the idea that a work of dance is as much a crafted thing as, say, a painting, a sculpture, even a birdhouse. But dance is ephemeral, a piece of art that emerges from the discipline of movement and the emotion of the dancers, perhaps in that order. Even when it's captured on film, the way Wenders does here, it still seems fleeting and precious. Wenders makes these dances seem both spectacular and intimate. He films a dancer in a printed chiffon dress pirouetting en pointe against somewhat a drab industrial backdrop. Did I mention that there's uncooked veal squidging from her slippers? Wenders hardly pretends this is business as usual. Rather, he coaxes us into understanding, or at least reckoning, with the jarring but wholly compelling image in front of us. It's as if he were saying, "I realize this woman has stuffed raw meat in her toe shoes, but trust me, go with it."
And if you're going to film anything in 3-D, why not dancers? Wenders revels in the contours and angles of these glorious bodies, some of which are brazenly muscular in some places and fleshy in others. (Bausch used dancers of all ages.) There's vast grace and beauty here, but there's also evidence of how dancers put their bodies to work: Jutting shoulderblades, veins a-poppin', bunions coming right at ya! Wenders's camera shows it all. He has made a movie the way choreographers and dancers make a dance: With muscle and with heart.
Editor's note: Portions of this review appeared earlier, in a different form, in Stephanie Zacharek's Berlin Film Festival coverage.
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