Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wenders’ Pina in 3D

Pina Bausch appeared in films directed by Federico Fellini and Pedro Almodóvar. Her work had been documented fairly extensively on film, but never adequately, at least according to her friend and admirer, Wim Wenders. 3D would be a game-changer, making possible immersive documentary experiences like Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams and now Wenders’ Pina (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

It is somewhat unusual for countries to choose documentaries as their official best foreign language Academy Award submission and it is usually a mistake when they do. However, Bausch is a genuine cultural icon in Germany and Wenders has an international reputation. As a result, not only was Pina selected, it is considered one of the top contenders (perversely this also means it is in great jeopardy of being snubbed altogether, given the Academy’s erratic history in this category). Regardless, it involves the most artful and innovative uses of 3D technology perhaps ever (or at least since the “educational” Sex and Zen 3D).

Tragically, Pina 3D was nearly over before it began when Bausch unexpectedly died on the eve of the film’s rehearsals. Though Wenders initially canceled the production, Bausch’s troupe convinced him to carry on. Never merely followers of direction, Bausch’s dancers were active collaborators in the development of her choreography, responding physically to her verbal “questioning.” As a result, many formed an unusually close bond with Bausch.

Most of the works selected by Wenders and Bausch are amongst her best known and most celebrated. Yet, they also fully embrace some of the darker imagery and overtly Sisyphean themes of her work. The burying motifs in particular are not likely to be confused with The Nutcracker any time soon. Yet, if that challenges some, it will be refreshingly striking to other, especially those who appreciate modern dance.

Still, it is important to emphasize the wit and physicality of Bausch’s work. It is not drily intellectual. In fact, the eccentric social dance and snappy 1920’s music (composed by Charlie Chaplin, among others) often lend Kontakthof an air of giddiness. Decidedly not staid in his approach, Wenders opens-up the film rather effectively by filming many dances on location around the city of Wuppertal. However, the enormous boulder and man-made waterfall of Vollmond (designed by longtime colleague Peter Pabst) dramatically set the scene for the film’s real show-stopper.

With a third dimension, Wenders represents Bausch’s choreography quite powerfully. On the other hand, his practice of showing archival footage as projected film flickering against diegetic surfaces is a distracting contrivance. Though heartfelt, the interview soundbites with her dancers are not especially memorable either. In truth, Pina is really only about one thing: showing Bausch’s steps to the fullest extent possible. This it does quite well indeed. Recommended for connoisseurs of contemporary dance and those looking for a redemptive encounter with 3D glasses, Pina opens this Friday (12/23) in New York at the IFC Center.