Susan Granger’s review of “Pina” (Sundance Selects)
Oscar-nominated as Best Documentary, this exhilarating 3-D entry by German filmmaker Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire,” “Buena Vista Social Club”) celebrates legendary choreographer Pina Bausch.
For nearly 10 years, Wenders, a founder of the German new wave, worked on the concept with Ms. Bausch and the Ensemble of the Tanztheater Wuppertal. But, as fate would have it, Bausch suddenly and unexpectedly died on June 30, 2009, at age 68, just days before production was scheduled to begin. After a period of mourning and extensive re-evaluation, Wenders decided to turn his focus on Pina’s uniquely innovative and highly stylized choreography.
Featured among the composed dance selections are “Café Muller,” “Le Sacre du Printemps,” “Vollmond” and “Kontakthof,” Pina’s four signature pieces which had already been prepared for filming before her untimely demise, along with archival footage of Bausch at work. What’s intriguing is her creative process. A compulsive choreographer, Bausch would pose questions, like a psychotherapist. Her graceful, multi-national dancers would answer, not in words, but with improvised gestures, movement and body language through which they could express their intimate emotions and remembered experiences. Following her example, Wenders asked each of Bausch’s distinctive dancers to convey their personal memories of Pina in bizarre solo performances, filming them in various indoor and outdoor locations around Wuppertal and in the countryside of Bergisches Land.
While American pop culture has been served “Step Up 3-D” and “Street Dance 3-D,” “Pina” is not only one of the first European 3-D movies but it is also the first art house film to utilize a technological format that’s been, perhaps, all too often squandered on shock, jump-out gimmicks – with the exception of “Avatar,” ”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and “Hugo.”
Unfortunately, however, Wenders’ documentary never reveals any personal or background information, as unidentified dancers pay tribute to their leader who departed to “dance in the clouds” in reverent voice-overs and talking heads.
In German, French and English with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Pina” is an exciting, if elusive 8, especially for dance enthusiasts.