On the list of any major artists deserving of a filmic tribute that’s more impressionistic and idea-filled, rather than fact-filled and locked into the rules of the biopic, the late, great German choreographer Pina Bausch ranks highly. And that’s just what German director Wim Wenders has pulled off with Pina, his bedazzling film “for” Bausch, who died in 2009, during the production of this film. While we may, in fact, wish for more details about Bausch, especially given this rare public forum for a legend from the relatively esoteric world of dance, we have to admire the filmmaker’s insistence on looking mainly at the art and not the artist. But an implicit point of Pina is that the artist’s exploratory spirit emerges through the art.
Wenders, who has done his finest work in years here, has also made a bold artistic argument for the expressive power of 3-D, alongside Martin Scorsese with his multidimensional Hugo. Dances and dancers come alive and interact with cinematographer Hélène Louvart’s engaging visualizing of Bausch’s visions, both onstage and out in the “outside” world, blurring the boundary of art and life quite nicely.
It begins powerfully, with Bausch’s striking invention for Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps for dancers on a dirt-filled stage, blending modernity and ritualism in a stunning way. (Unfortunately, from a musical angle, starting with Stravinsky’s masterpiece leaves the soundtrack with nowhere to go but down, and the musical aspect tends to be decorative and shallow, in stark contrast to the ripe creativity of the dance.) Dancers do their elegant and primal work on elevated trains and on the streets of Bausch’s home base of Wuppertal, Germany, and bring aesthetics into nature, while investigating the choreographer’s interest in bringing essential nature into her art. The film also showcases individual members of the legendary Bausch troupe, who offer testimonials to the visionary pulling the strings and devising the choreographic contexts.
Overall, Wenders’s Pina is a stirring piece of work, befitting an obsessive iconoclast whose maxim could be applied to her own artistic voice and other matters of art and living: “Dance, dance. Otherwise, we are lost.”