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Pina: movie review

Wim Wenders documentary on German choreographer Pina Bausch leaves as much mystery as enlightenment.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / January 6, 2012



Wim Wenders's documentary "Pina" was made in 3-D, and, along with Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," it represents an artistic high point in the use of that much-maligned process. Is there something in the German visual tradition, I wonder, that drew these artists to 3-D?

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In any case, the low esteem in which 3-D movies are held is generally deserved. By now, we've probably all had our fill of 3-D films that seem to exist only to gouge us at the box office and are often little more than refabricated 2-D movies anyway.

"Pina" began as a long-­gestating idea between Wenders, one of Germany's most respected film directors, and his friend Pina Bausch, the German dancer and choreographer whose company is based in the northwestern German city of Wuppertal. When Bausch died suddenly in 2009, just as the project looked as if it was finally ready to roll, Wenders had to abruptly change course. What was intended as a collaboration with Bausch became instead a kind of testimonial featuring members of her troupe performing large excerpts from her most famous choreography.

Bausch's work, which can seem alternately jagged, expressionistic, chilly, and showy, has been showcased before in the movies, notably in a 1983 documentary by Chantal Akerman ("On Tour With Pina Bausch") and in Pedro Almodóvar's "Talk to Her," which displayed her famous "Café Muller," in which dancers, to the music of Henry Purcell, fling themselves over and around wooden chairs. (This signature dance was one of the relatively rare numbers in which Bausch herself often appeared.)

"Café Muller" makes its appearance in "Pina" along with many other high-profile examples of her artistry, including her choreography for Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," which premièred in 1975 and has the dancers padding across an earth-covered stage; "Vollmond," with an onstage waterfall soaking the dancers; and "Kontakthof," which was partially filmed before a live audience.

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