Offering further proof that the latest 3D technology is good for a lot more than just lunging knives and fantastical storylines, Wim Wenders’ dance docu “Pina” reps multidimensional entertainment that will send culture vultures swooning. A tribute to Pina Bausch, one of modern dance’s most groundbreaking choreographers, pic lets the artist’s work speak for itself via big, juicy slabs of performance. The lack of context could frustrate Bausch neophytes, while purists may object to some stylistic decisions, but if marketed right, “Pina” could pirouette at arthouse venues before making graceful leaps into ancillary.
Wenders and his countrywoman Bausch had discussed collaborating for decades, but it was only after the helmer saw what new digital 3D techniques could do that he decided to use the format for a film about her. After all, as several pop music-themed pics (“Step Up 3D,” “StreetDance 3D”) and ballet-focused TV specials have proved, stereoscopic techniques go particularly well with dance, affording auds a chance to appreciate the geometry of bodies in motion in a very palpable way.
Unfortunately, Bausch died very suddenly in 2009, just as the film was going into pre-production. As a consequence, the resulting pic made in collaboration with her company, the Tanztheater Wuppertal, reps a tribute to her memory. Onscreen subtitles emphasize that this is to be a film “for Pina” rather than about her, which is why the dancers sporadically interviewed here speak in such hushed, reverent tones. Sadly, they reveal remarkably little about their mentor except that she was an imposing figure and, natch, a great genius.
Whether Bausch herself would have liked the film is a good question. Famously exacting about how her work was seen (she and her troupe were the subjects of several documentaries, including Chantal Akerman’s 1983 “On Tour With Pina Bausch”), she might not have cared for the way the dancing is edited to show different angles, or the manner in which some performances are framed so only portions are visible. Hardcore dance enthusiasts are likely to be the pic’s strongest critics.
On the other hand, non-experts may feel frustrated that “Pina” steadfastly refuses to provide any background information or expert commentary, beyond a few tantalizing bits of archival footage showing Bausch herself onstage and in rehearsal.
Instead, the pic is admirably, almost austerely focused on the work itself, and is structured around key pieces from her repertoire, performed by her company of four, making the docu a must-see for auds who have never had the chance to see Bausch’s ensemble onstage. First up is Stravinsky’s signature “The Rite of Spring,” which premiered in 1975, and which features a stage full of earth the dancers leave traces in as they perform. Next comes the haunting, Purcell-scored “Cafe Mueller” (1978), a physically challenging, dreamlike piece in which many of the dancers keep their eyes closed, suggesting sleepwalkers. (An excerpt from this appears in Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her.”)
Wenders creatively edits “Kontakthof,” filmed partly before a live aud, to juxtapose performances by dancers in three different versions featuring teenage, middle-aged and senior dancers. The last act excerpts the spectacularly elemental “Vollmond” (2006), for which Bausch’s set designer Peter Pabst devised an onstage waterfall that ends up soaking the troupe, while some of the pas de deux and solo turns unfold around Wuppertal, the southern German burg where the Tanztheater was based.
These little excursions beyond the proscenium arch, along with the somewhat wispy tone of what little talk is heard, reveal Wenders’ hand most. Otherwise, his presence is barely felt, allowing the dancers and Bausch’s talents to rightly take centerstage. If nothing else, “Pina” underscores the fact that Wenders does his best work in docus now.
Occasionally, background figures in motion look a bit stuttery, a side-effect of the stereoscopic technique, but on the whole, tech credits are topnotch.