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Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Wim Wenders
Features: Regina Advento, Malou Airaudo, Ruth Amarante, Pina Bausch, Rainer Behr, Andrey Berezin, Damiano Ottavio Bigi, Bénédicte Billet, Ales Cucek, Clementine Deluy, Josephine Ann Endicott, Lutz Förster, Pablo Aran Gimeno, Mechthild Grossmann, Silvia Farias Heredía, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Barbara Kaufmann, Nayoung Kim, Daphnis Kokkinos, Ed Kortlandt, Eddie Martinez, Dominique Mercy, Thusnelda Mercy, Cristiana Morganti, Morena Nascimento, Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon, Fabien Prioville, Jean-Laurent Sasportes, Franko Schmidt, Azusa Seyama, Julie Shanahan, Julie Anne Stanzak, Michael Strecker, Aida Vainieri, Anna Wehsarg, Tsai-Chin Yu
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2011
Country: Germany / France / U.K.
Pina German director Wim Wenders had wanted to make a documentary about the expressionistic dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch for more than two decades. His first exposure to Bausch came in 1985 when he was taken to a performance of Café Müller, her most famous work of tanztheater (dancer-theater), and he spent years pondering how he could transfer her eclectic mix of elegance, chaos, and raw physicality from the stage to the screen without losing its essence. The answer, it turned out, was digital 3D, which Wenders recognized as a cinematic means of preserving (or at least in some sense replicating) the all-important sense of shared space that is so essential to the theatrical experience. He and his team spent a great deal of time working on and refining the 3D process, moving past its frequent misuse as a technological gimmick and instead focusing on how it could enhance the cinematic experience.

The resulting film, Pina, is an extraordinary experience. Wenders had been collaborating with Bausch on the film when she died unexpectedly in 2009, just days before they were about to roll camera for the first time. Wenders considered shutting the project down, but the members of Bausch’s troupe, the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, convinced him otherwise. As a result, the film was reconceived from being a document of Bausch’s most famous works to a mixture of documentary and tribute, in which Bausch’s collaborators share their memories via voice-over narration and perform solo and duet dances that reflect their experiences with her. Bausch’s absence in the film is a powerful undercurrent, even as she appears on-screen—slender, intense, cigarette always in hand except when dancing—at various points in black-and-white archival footage, which Wenders frames as films-within-the-film. This metacinematic approach gives Pina an appropriately melancholic touch, even as we are constantly reminded that Bausch’s memory lives on through both her work and the people with whom she collaborated. In this sense, Wenders’ film is not a memorial, but a stark, invigorating reminder that great art never dies with the artist.

The majority of Pina consists of excerpts from Bausch’s most famous works: the aforementioned Café Müller, Le sacred du printemps, Kontakthof, and Vollmond. In recording these dances, which are a mix of both live performances in front of an audience and bits staged specifically for the camera, Wenders and cinematographer Hélène Louvart employ all the technology at their disposal to fuse the stage and screen. Not only do they make use of 3D, which gives the various performative spaces a sense of real depth while also emphasizing the physicality of the dancers’ bodies, but they also transcend the experience of sitting in the theater by bringing the camera onto the stage and moving in and out of the performances. The effect is never invasive, but rather entrancing. It makes us feel even more like we are there in the moment, sharing the physical space with the dancers as they leap, writhe, fall, and swoon.

While rightly famous for the boldness of her choreography, Bausch was also known for the elaborate sets in which her works were performed. For me, Vollmond is the most memorable, with its black stage dominated by an enormous boulder on one end and various water machines that produce the illusion that the entire back of the stage is a dark ocean stretching out of sight. Bausch made intricate use of props, as best seen in Café Müller, which takes place on a dark gray stage filled with black tables and chairs that are both obstacles and tools for the dancers’ expression.

Because so much of her work was conceived in relation to space and physical objects, Bausch’s choreography naturally translates outside the theater, which we see throughout the film as her dancers perform their tributes to her in a wide variety of spaces: next to a busy city street beneath the elevated tram in Wuppertal (where her dance company is based), amid the clanking machinery of a cavernous industrial plant, on the wet tile next to an enormous indoor pool, in a shallow brook, at the dusty edge of a vast quarry. The variety of locations adds a sense of texture to the film that makes Bausch’s art feel even more like an extension of the natural world. As decidedly modern as it is, her choreography as depicted in the film is essentially inseparable from the world in which is arises, which makes it feel both moving and absolutely essential. The wonder of Pina is that Wenders has captured the choreography so indelibly, making good on his decades-long desire to use his art to showcase Bausch’s.

Pina Criterion Collection Blu-Ray 3D + Blu-Ray
Pina is also available from The Criterion Collection on DVD.
Aspect Ratio1.85:1
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • Audio commentary by writer/director Wim Wenders
  • The Making of Pina documentary
  • Deleted scenes, with commentary by Wenders
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Interview with Wenders
  • Trailer
  • Insert booklet featuring an essay by novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt; reprinted pieces by Wenders and Pina Bausch; a guide to the dances featured in the film; and portraits of the dancers
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateJanuary 22, 2013

    Given the absolute importance of 3D to Pina, Criterion’s two-disc Blu-Ray set includes the film in both a standard 2D presentation and in Blu-Ray 3D. The film was shot in high-definition video on three different camera systems, so the image we see on the Criterion disc is a direct digital port with a significant amount of postproduction work involving color timing and “sweetening” of the stereoscopy. The resulting image is nothing less than stunning and certainly one of the best, if not the, best 3D I have yet seen on Blu-Ray. The sense of depth in the image is truly impressive without being overdone, and the attention to the smallest details of dimensionality really help to sell the illusion. The image is bright (even with the inherent darkening of the stereoscopic glasses) and sharp without looking overly digitized, colors are beautifully rendered, and detail is simply fantastic. (Can we hope that, given that Criterion has now dipped into the third dimension, we might someday see a restored re-release of Flesh for Frankenstein on Blu-Ray 3D?) The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack, which is identical to the theatrical mix, is likewise superb. Pina Bausch favored an eclectic array of music, and the dances are performed to a wide range of musical selections, from familiar classical symphonies to modern electronic beats, all of which fill the room beautifully.
    The fact that Pina is a great artistic and technological achievement is nicely reflected in the wide array of supplements included on Criterion’s edition. Director Wim Wenders offers a thoughtful and informative discussion of the film’s origins and production on his audio commentary, and he also appears in a 23-minute video interview that was originally recorded as part of the film’s promotion. The Making of Pina is an excellent 45-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that is presented in 3D and focuses quite a bit on Wenders’ use of stereoscopic technology; for those who are still doubters that 3D can be used artfully and expressively, this is essential viewing. It was also fascinating seeing how much technology and equipment was required to produce a film that feels effortless. Given that Wenders shot hundreds of hours of footage and spent 18 months editing the film, it is little surprise that there are quite a few deleted scenes included here (14 in all, most of which are excerpts from various dances) with optional commentary by Wenders, as well as roughly 10 minutes of additional behind-the-scenes footage. The disc is rounded out with the original theatrical trailer, and the thick insert booklet includes an essay by novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt; reprinted pieces by Wenders and Pina Bausch; a brief guide to the dances featured in the film (which, frankly, I would have liked to have more information on); and portraits of the dancers.

    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

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