‘Pina’ movie review: Wim Wenders’ 3D dance movie is a real wow

Note: Pina is approximately 90% dialogue-less dance performance footage, and 10% interviews with members of the Tanztheater Wuppertal dance company, which consist of brief (3-5 sentence) remembrances in (mostly) German and English, and also French, Spanish, Korean, and other languages, which are subtitled only in Czech on Prague screens. Even if you don’t speak Czech, I highly recommend seeing Pina on the big screen for the 3D performance footage alone.

After being disappointed by 3D features for close to two years now, here’s something special: one the best uses of 3D to date. To my eyes, at least, this tops Avatar and even Jackass 3D, not necessarily in terms of technique but in terms of idea: in Pina, Wim Wenders uses 3D to replicate a theatrical stage, giving the performers infinitely more room to work with, and the audience the illusion of dimensional perspective that showcases the use of space.

Of course, it doesn’t replicate a live performance, but it gives you something new and different: we witness these performances with the clarity and detail that digital 3D can afford, but also from angles and perspectives that would not be possible during a live show. The results are inspiring, at least until your eyes begin to feel fatigue.

Wenders began Pina as a collaboration with famed choreographer Pina Bausch, presumably as a showcase for her work. Dance aficionados will know who Bausch is; others may be familiar with her work through other outlets; I’ve seen this before, I thought during the Café Müller portions of Pina – indeed, Pedro Almodovar used the performance in Talk to Her.

Unfortunately, Bausch died during the early stages of production. The resulting film is a tribute to the legendary choreographer, with snippets of members of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal company paying respects through brief remembrances. These scenes reveal very little about Bausch, but showcase the effect Bausch had on her performers, who come from a wide range of backgrounds.

The real star of Pina is the performance footage, which comprises the majority of the film. By turns, it is poetic, comedic, intense, and exhilarating (there were a few gasps at my sold-out screening at Kino Atlas, which I can heartily recommend for the quality of the digital 3D presentation).

There are many fun isolated performances throughout – a Jack Russell ‘enjoying’ dance, a sequence aboard an elevated train, another by a cliff side, and other outdoor scenes – but the focus is on a smaller number of Bausch pieces, which Wenders has cut up and spliced together in highlight-reel fashion.

There’s Rite of Spring, which presents a stage full of soil that tracks the movements of the performers in a male vs. female piece; Café Müller, which makes use of a room full of chairs that have to be continually moved as the sleepwalking dancers make their way around; Kontakthof, which showcases age differences (and which Wenders edits to emphasize the juxtaposition); and Vollmond, which incorporates a stage full of water.

The only real issue some may take with Pina is the creative editing of these performances: we never get the full shows, and thus never the full story, only the highlights. And edited together into the film, there isn’t really a cohesive theme throughout them; this is, simply, a tribute to Pina Bausch, presenting a snapshot of her work.

Which is more than fine: despite the lack of context, this is beautiful stuff for the eyes (and ears – a well-chosen soundtrack is capped by Jun Miyake’s The Here and After). I suspect Pina works just fine in two dimensions, but do yourself a favor and catch it in three – this is a unique experience.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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