Wenders spends no time holding the hand of the novice. The very notion and phenomenon of modern dance itself remains unexplained in "Pina". That we're experiencing an open and interpretive artistic endeavor is clear enough as the camera dials back and moves in to examine the nuances of some of this choreographer's greatest works. All movement is felt, even as it confounds and/or intrigues (maybe even those performing). But then just as vividly, we are thrust from the realm of the arts (concert halls, etc.) and into the streets and escalators of the real world. This is where Wenders' take on Bausch's work pops to most vibrant life. The entirety of the frame - the dancers, their movement, the world around them, and the camera's perception of that world - pulses with life and sparks with the fire of something spectacular, compelling and unknowable that is within the very whole of it all. It is something the performers have received from their departed mentor, and something that is being brought to the world over via a cinema offering as daring as its subject.
Bausch left behind a skilled troupe of some of the greatest dancers in Europe. It is through their memories and voiceover interludes that we're literally told about Pina herself: Cryptic but supportive, graceful but wild. The understanding is that Pina would never come out and say what she could prod and nudge a dancer into discovering. Under her wing, each member got to be his or her own unique artist; operating within her set superstructure, yes, but also all the while a vessel unto him or herself within it all. Freedom appears to be everywhere, with no shred negative inhibition when it comes to conventional issues such as body type or aging. (It's interesting to note that overseas, the dancers peak years are considered to be in the late thirties, as opposed to the apparently more youth centric U.S., where the late twenties is pushing the perceived pinnacle.)
The qualities that make Pina Pina, at least according to what is experienced in "Pina", are typical qualities that one would expect from a male, not so much a female. And yet, Pina was a woman for all time. The idea of gender typification is nonetheless tempting when trying to sort out the unexplainable pulse of the performances, but it is nonetheless ultimately transcended, never to be looked back upon in this film. Although we are viewing all of this through the eyes of a male filmmaker, that male filmmaker is Wim Wenders, perhaps cinema's greatest equalizer and lover of honest humanity. That Wenders "got" Bausch's work better than most anyone can ever hope to is all the more reinforcement for the film.
The one letdown I have to express about "Pina", a remarkable film in most every other way, is that the 3D, so ballyhooed all the while leading up to seeing the film, was surprisingly underwhelming. I'm told, however, that the film is richer with it than without, and having only experienced it in 3D (as it was meant to be seen), I'll have to take that on faith. The letdown is minor, although I maintain that if there is a short list of things that 3D in movies is good for, dance has to be near the top of that list. "Pina", while not dancing off screen as I perhaps hoped it would, dazzled on most all other points; as a plotless moving spectacle, an occasional rumination on loss, and a travelogue through one's career via vision and movement. This is not a film for everyone, but for those so inclined to venture into Wenders' three-dimensional vision of Pina Bausch's world, a realm of mystery and frenetic excitement await.
- Jim Tudor