Pina Directed by Wim Wenders A modern-dance doc that’s failed by 2D

Pina’s Modern Life: Wim Wenders’ doc pays tribute to the late choreographer Pina Bausch.

It’s blasphemous to even consider, but: Perhaps Pina works better in 3D. The extradimensional version of Wim Wenders’ documentary on German choreographer Pina Bausch is supposed to offer Hugo-like beauty and reverie-inspiring immersion, even if you’re not an enthusiast of modern dance. I belong in that category but saw the film in 2D—and found it a somewhat scattered, occasionally alienating, and none-too-informative tribute that likely won’t win the artist nor the artform any new fans.

If you don’t know anything about Bausch and her background, you won’t learn it here. She died of cancer only days before filming was to start (and, in fact, only days after being diagnosed), necessarily changing the direction of the doc. As the opening shot of her image floating above an empty stage tells us, the film is for Pina instead of about her. And thus Wenders, who so intimately infiltrated another group of artists in 1999’s Buena Vista Social Club, lets the dancers of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal troupe express their artistic director’s essence through movement.

The pieces Wenders shoots range from mesmerizing to innervating to bizarre, and sometimes include footage of Bausch dancing herself. You’ll be transfixed as she and then a slow-stepping line of dancers demonstrate the seasons with simple but spot-on motions of their arms, a lighthearted leitmotif that repeats at film’s end. Other offerings are more serious and challenging, including an intense and borderline tribal Rite of Spring performed on a stage covered in dirt, and Café Müller, a downright perplexing number in which dancers throw and crash into chairs, fall around like rag dolls (actually, rag-doll choreography repeats throughout Bausch’s work), and wander around the stage in nightgowns, seemingly sleepwalking. Wenders films other bits—some whimsical, some head-scratching—in outdoor locations throughout Wuppertal, Germany, including outside a monorail, on a train itself, and in a field.

Your choreographic orthodoxies aside, it’s hard to deny the performances’ incredible physicality. All of Bausch’s dancers are body-builder muscular, and they throw themselves (sometimes literally) into the works, leaping and spinning and falling with superhuman exaggeration and purpose. But you won’t find out much about them, either. A handful are interviewed, with Wenders choosing to train a camera on them gazing silently while their comments play in voiceover. You rarely get their names, however, and most of what they offer about Bausch or their experiences boils down to platitudes: “I depicted the word with my body,” one says. “Your fragility is also your strength,” Bausch once told another. Or, “Dance for love!” These statements could come from any dancer, on any continent; none gives any insight into Bausch’s particular approach. At least one scene in which two performers take turns spitting at each other speaks more precisely to the choreographer’s tastes. It’s also just weird.

Our Readers Say

Please tell me why the Washignton City Post publishes a paper written by someone who doesn't like modern dance and dosen't know Pina either! You don't have someone who likes dance and knows the subject?? This movie is brilliant! and reflects the brilliant work of Pina Bausch... I've seen it four times now - once in 2D...but the 3D is really great! the camera people learned the choreography to be right in there on stage - during the Rite of Spring for instance, it's extremely exciting and effective! It's sad to me that the person writing this article Tricia Olszewski, thinks she learned nothing about dance, Pina, the dancers and their work. Go see the film anyway!
Just this morning I received this not from my brother about seeing Pina:
"Yes and it was great. I want to get the sound track. We saw "Der Fensterputzer" years ago and I always wanted to see another of her pieces but never did. Bauch died just as Wenders started working on it so it has a beautiful melancholy about it. I hope it wins."
i appreciated your respectful review, but have to say i thought the film was wonderful. and it was my first exposure to bausch's work. i saw it in 3D, which added a great deal.
I think you missed out on a lot by not seeing the movie in 3D. I am a lover of dance and a former dancer, and I thought that Wim Wenders did a wonderful job of filming dance. Why does it have to be a documentary in the verbal sense as opposed to the way dance is communicated - visually and viscerally? As my journalism professors always told me: show, don't tell. This movie is the first that I've seen that really works WITH dance and shows the dance in a new and enlivened way. Rather than filming a dance piece that is blocked out for a stage, this is staged for a camera. You get close-ups and alternate perspectives that you don't get from sitting in a dance performance audience. The 3D worked especially well in the opening piece with the dirt - the airy nature of the turf was depicted well and really struck me as, "Wow, what a great idea for a piece - on ground that moves and shows motion!"

In Café Müller, the piece where the dancers seem to be patients in some sort of institution, I got teary when the two dancers first embrace. It seemed very real and heartfelt. I'm sorry you missed out the rich nature of this film.
It was weird and boring! I wish I could my time spent watching politely back.
I can't believe this is an Oscar contender.
I just had the opportunity to see Pina and was emotionally blown away. We so often,now,have films and music that is so brash and crass that it was wonderful to experience ones own emotional response to the dancers without a lot of unnecessary "hype"
I hope I can see it again. Thanks

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