Wim Wenders has never attempted to hide his abiding fascination with music and dance. Whether blending acrobatics and traditional ballet with the musical performances of a recently discovered Nick Cave in the masterwork Wings of Desire, or embarking on a terribly misguided creative partnership with Bono for Million Dollar Hotel, Wenders can’t seem to help but indulge his preoccupation with music and its relation to human movement. It’s no wonder, then, that Wenders took up with legendary choreographer Pina Bausch and her group of famously inventive dancers at Tanztheater Wuppertal recently to create one of the most definitive movies about dance ever made. Although it almost didn’t happen: Pina Bausch died of cancer two days before principal photogrpahy got underway.
Named in honor of Ms. Bausch, Pina began as a profile on her career (as both a choreographer and a dancer) and a celebration of her craft with the artists she’d kept close to her throughout the years. Naturally, Wenders and the Tanztheater Wuppertal principals had to drastically adjust course when tragedy struck and they realized the subject of their film would not be able to join them. Broken up into segments featuring inventive stagings of a selection of Pina’s most well-regarded pieces and short snippets of interviews from Pina and her dancers, the film (mainly through the astounding work of the dancers it follows) creates a sense of escape that doesn’t break from start to finish. The interviews themselves are paced in such a way as to maintain a continuity between dances, and the way Wenders chooses to film these visceral numbers is anything but static; it is to his credit that we are allowed such an intimate experience of Pina’s works.
While the inherent annoyance of 3D technology (especially for someone who wears glasses to begin with) is inescapable, of the few films that warrant its use, Pina stands out among them. Wenders strikes a delicate balance between playful use of the effect and a restrained, very subtle application of the technology. When the dancers become acrobatic and fully utilize all of the space they have to work with, Wenders allows them a little something extra, the end result of which is thoroughly exhilarating. (Though, the film might have worked just as well without the inclusion of headache-inducing eye-wear.)
Ms. Bausch once remarked: “I’m not interested in how people move; I’m interested in what makes them move.” This desire of Pina’s to get at the reason for a dance above and beyond the technicalities of the dance itself sets her choreography apart. There was always an unavoidable fascination with motive that her work instilled in audiences lucky enough to see her pieces. These infectious and sometimes scary ruminations on human desire, in all its frailty and strength, no doubt caught hold of Wenders early on, as he was exploring similar themes in the company of esteemed artists like Herzog and Fassbinder. Wenders’ innate understanding of what Pina was driving at is on full display as the dancers breathe a timeless sense of life into the work, and the joy of everyone involved with the production in the face of such sorrow is palpable. And I can’t stress enough how little “being into dance” has to do with a viewer’s ability to experience the beauty of Pina.