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movie review

A watery scene from the Wim Wenders documentary "Pina"

Those attuned to the ground-breaking choreography of Pina Bausch will have already stumbled upon great things being said about director Wim Wenders' new documentary of her work. No convincing needed.

But what about everyone else?

In filming some of Bausch's modern masterworks, Wenders shows little patience for soft introductions. He thrusts one of the German choreographer's more challenging dances at the audience right away – and in 3-D. Le Sacre du printemps moves groups of women across a stage in pained formations, with the sinewy dancers wearing minimalist slips and expressions of suffering in various degrees. Using 3-D in as ungimmicky a way as possible, Wenders wants simply to immerse viewers in the dance, with all its physicality, protruding collar bones and earthy colours.

The women jut out and retreat. Formations of men move in counterpatterns. The symbolism is obvious: male muscularity without much emotion versus the compulsions of women in the springtime of their lives.

The pained expressiveness (and particularly the fact that it is so close up) in this early piece of Bausch's, which debuted in 1975, may seem overwrought, even clichéed. But two steps later, something fascinating unfolds.

As with all of her work from her nearly four decades as choreographer at the Tanztheater Wuppertal, Bausch delved heavily into narrative. Le Sacre du printemps is a short story of sexuality, in all of the structured forces of nature and human society baring down on individuals. Her 1978 masterpiece Café Müller, also filmed impeccably by Wenders, shows the continual shuffling of chairs to represent largely the same theme, this time in the milieu of European café life.

These aren't depictions of some fantasy world, as in classical ballet. These are the fantasies we create around ourselves in the modern world. Bausch's choreography comes from daily life.

The film soars when Wenders takes the choreography out into the streets of Wuppertal, the out-of-the-way hometown of Bausch's dance company. The city's relative seclusion from New York, London and other major world dance centres creates a nurturing home for Bausch's work. And inevitably, Wenders includes shots of the industrial city's suspended monorail, built at the turn of the last century. The View-Master quality of these scenes matches the incongruity of dances and the vague off-kilter German-ity of Wuppertal.

Here too, the symbolism is clear. The city's industrial side matches the mechanical movements of Bausch's choreography, consequently emphasizing the strong humanism lying beneath it all.

Bausch died suddenly, days after being diagnosed with cancer, at the age of 68 and just before Wenders was to start shooting. He cancelled the film. Bausch's dancers encouraged him to carry on, especially given that Wenders and Bausch had been contemplating making the film since the mid-1980s. It took the latest developments in 3-D to convince Wenders that he could finally add something to Bausch's movements rather than in the usual flat, cinematic way.

Not only does Pina excel in recording the modern dance dynamically, making it all the more accessible – it lifts Bausch's compelling, beautiful work onto an entirely new stage.


  • Directed by Wim Wenders
  • Classification: G
  • 3.5 stars