Those already familiar with the work of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch won’t necessarily learn much from Wim Wenders’ 3D documentary Pina, which was intended to be a collaboration between the two artists but turned into a memorial tribute when Bausch suddenly died in June 2009. If you know little or nothing about modern dance, however—and especially if you believe yourself wholly uninterested—this dynamic primer may wreak some serious havoc on your preconceptions.
Pedro Almodóvar recognized the cinematic potential of Bausch’s intensely physical work almost a decade ago, featuring an excerpt from her “Café Müller” in his film Talk to Her. Even he might be surprised, though, by how vital her routines remain when transferred from stage to screen. Wenders pushes in close to capture the ecstatic exertion of each individual performer, yet maintains a firm grasp on each piece as a single fluid organism. Indeed, the film’s greatest liability is that it continually interrupts the dances for unenlightening interviews with members of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, who do little more than gush about how amazing Bausch was—understandable, given her recent passing, but still an arrhythmic waste of our time.
Nonetheless, Pina serves wonderfully as an introduction-cum-primer. It’s also, due to Bausch’s innovative use of the physical elements (earth, water), one of precious few recent 3D films in which the extra dimension feels expansive rather than distracting. Even if you’re sure this couldn’t possibly be your thing, give it a chance. You may find, as I did, that you like modern dance more than you think.