Director Wim Wenders was one of the bright lights of the German New Wave, but his track record post-Wings of Desire has been spotty at best. So it was a great surprise that Pina, his 3D homage to the late choreographer Pina Bausch, was one of the best movies of 2012. But Pina is a greater accomplishment than that: in its 3D form, it is one of the best films depicting dance ever made.
There is an old saying that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, but the common retort is that of course dancing has very much to do with architecture indeed: dancers must interact with a performance venue and the nature of that architecture makes a huge difference to choreographer and audience alike. Pina Bausch staged dances in venues around the world, but Wenders takes this one step further. He not only stages brilliant dance pieces in the confines of an eclosed theater or soundstage, but sets numerous Bausch pieces in external locations. Thus a parade of troupe members marches dangerously close to a treacherous cliff, pairs of dancers practice their art on street corners and even on public transportation, breathing life into what jouranlist Jane Jacobs called the ballet of the city.
One of the photographic pleasures of Pina is the way the dancers look, and I don’t just mean their bodies. Cinematographer Hélène Louvart pays as much attention to the dancers faces as to their forms, with loving close-ups that embrace the gracefully aging senior members of Bausch’s troupe.
Pina samples works from various stages of the choreographer/dancers career, spending more time on major works like The Rite of Spring and Cafe Müller. You do not need to be familiar with Bausch’s work or with Wenders for that matter, to appreciate the film. My only previous experience with Bausch before I saw Wenders’ film was a dance she worked on for Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her.
The Criterion Edition of Pina is as usual a thorough package, and it is no shame that it cannot approach the 3D visuals of the film’s theatrical presentation. The DVD’s two dimensions still offer a generous, sumptuously photographed look at a beautiful body of work.
A generous bonus disc includes a featurette on the making of Pina, with plenty of footage of the massive equipment that was so gracefully used to capture the dancers in motion. Deleted scenes include additional episodes of a section of the main film in which Wenders asked members of the troupe to tell him about Bausch by performing one of her dances. Wenders and members of Bausch’s troupe were sorry they did not all make it into the finished film, and while they might have interrupted the flow of the feature, fans will be glad to see that the material left on the cutting room floor wasn’t omitted because it was sub-par.