Review: Pina

On Stage and in the Woods with Pina’s Ghost

By Patrick Mueller
January 3, 2012

I’ve now seen two movies in 3-D (black-plastic-hipster-glasses 3-D, not last century’s crappy red-and-blue-lensed-paper-glasses 3-D): the 2009 Christmas blockbuster Avatar and the art film documentary Pina.

By German New Wave cinema icon Wim Wenders, Pina documents the work of German tanztheater (dance-theatre) goddess Pina Bausch, director of Tanztheater Wuppertal, and, in a turn of events unforeseen at the outset of shooting the film, the choreographer’s passing.

Wenders wastes little time with language, and doesn’t pretend to log the facts and stats of Bausch’s career. Instead, he focuses on the work, with extended footage of Bausch’s seminal early works Le Sacre du Printemps, Café Müller (my personal favorite, even notwithstanding the title), and Kontakthof, as well as her final full-evening work Vollmond. He takes us up close, offering the audience Sacre’s cursed red gown apparently inches from our faces, and taking us down into the flying dirt and spraying water of Bausch’s lusciously tactile, elemental sets.

3-D transforms the experience, and the work transforms the experience of 3-D. Wenders leaves behind the Hollywood 3-D mainstays of vertigo-packed action, virtuosic special effects, and periodic application of 3-D’s unique capabilities ensconced in mostly 2-D perspectives (except more headache-inducing). Instead, Wenders climbs inside the medium of 3-D film, allowing its hyper-reality to be the special effect, allowing the stunning dancers and works to be the virtuosity, and most of all reveling in the intense visual experience offered by both the dance and the filming.

In homage to the late Bausch, Wenders follows company members into Wuppertal’s parks, streets, and Schwebebahn, the city’s one-of-a-kind suspended commuter train. Several scenes also repurpose as a performance site an open-pit coalmine, the ultimate symbol of Germany’s industrial Ruhrgebiet. These forays into the world that surrounded Bausch’s work and company offer new, stirring insights into the images and impulses that drove Bausch’s ground-breaking work, and bring a crucial vibrancy to the personal dance offerings by the company members.

Pina played to a sold-out house on a Tuesday evening at Brooklyn’s BAM Rose Cinema. It’s playing at another theater in New York, and one in Montreal, with no prospects of a Denver (or any other major American city) release; but short-listed for Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary and Best Foreign Language Film (if nominated, the first film to do so), we can cross our finger and harangue our local art-film house for the silver-screen 3-D experience later in the spring.