Pina: Wim Wenders’ Homage to Great Choreographer and Dancer, Pina Bausch

In his intriguing film, “Pina,” German maestro Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire,” “The Buena Vista Social Club”), shooting impressively in 3D, captures vividly the brilliantly inventive dance world of the late legendary choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009.

World-premiering at the Berlin Film Fest, “Pina” played last week at the Telluride and Toronto Film Fests and will feature prominently in the upcoming New York Film Fest, in October.

Selected as the official German entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, “Pina” will be released in limited platform on December 21, and then nationally wide in January by the Sundance Selects.

I have met Pina Bausch and her extraordinarily talented and committed dancers several times in New York (when she performed at BAM in 1984) and then in Los Angeles through the late, great Merce Cunningham. Though the styles of the two ensembles could not have been more different, there was a good deal of respect between their respective choreographers (I know it from talking to Merce, who died two years ago, at 90). Both Cunningham and Bausch are post-modern, avant-garde companies, defying the normative conventions of classic ballet as well as those of modern dance a la Martha Graham (where Cunningham began his dancing career in the late 30s), Paul Taylor or Alvin Ailey.

Pina Bausch was not just a brilliant artist, but a great, eccentric woman, and a wonderful conversationalist (My companion was a dancer with Merce Cunningham Dance Company so I had privileged access to her concerts and to her troupe, and she came to visit us once with Merce and his companion, the great musician John Cage).

Conceptually, Wenders had conceived with Bausch a dance film like none seen before, one which takes the fullest advantage yet of new 3D technology. His goal was to place the viewers right at the center and deep inside Bausch’s playful, inventive, and thrillingly unpredictable pieces.

Pina Buasch was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1941. After her untimely death in 2009, at the age of 68, of cancer (whose early signs she reportedly disregarded by not telling anyone) Wenders decided to continue with his ambitious project. End result is an exciting tribute of Pina, for Pina (I am also tempted to say by Pina)–and for her millions of fans around the world.

Sensual and erotic but not graphic, emotionally touching but not melodramatic, hauntingly provocative and disturbing but not depressing, “Pina” uses 3D to remarkable effect; in fact, the 3D in Wenders’ work is more impressive than that seen in most Hollywood pictures, actioners and otherwise.

“Pina” takes the audience into Bausch’s work in her imaginative sets (a gliding monorail, floor covered with mud, bare stage covered with chairs, a towering man-made waterfall) and then powerfully renders the beauty and sheer physicality of the dances and her dancers of her company, the Tanztheater Wuppertal ensemble.

The movie almost did not happen. Wenders was planning to make a film about the renowned choreographer, when she suddenly died. But then, he decided instead to make a sort of a tribute film, but, fortunately for all of us movie lovers, not a standard biopicture. Instead, Wenders relies heavily on extensive footage from her own dances with the members of the Tanztheater Wuppertal.

The dances that open and close the film are particularly breathtaking and resonant–you don’t have to be a dance lover (though I am) to enjoy and/or to appreciate them. I have a feeling that Pina Bausch would have loved this elegant, if austere, feature, which is in congruence with her sense of aesthetics.

Running time: 106 Minutes.