Movie Review - Pina 3D

The newest from German filmmaker Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire and Buena Vista Social Club) is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary. It was one of a select few documentaries released in 2011 that was filmed in 3D, a format that won't totally wow here, but it does do what it intends to do and that's pay tribute to the late choreographer Pina Bausch.

The documentary is a series of dances that were staged by Pina Bausch, prior to her death in 2009, performed by the various ethnic company she trained, interspersed with commentary about Bausch from many of the dancers from that company who loved and respected her. It's not like Step Up 3D in that there is no hip hop style of dancing. The style is more a mix of classical and ballet with some medium and interpretive free forms thrown in. It's also not trying to tell a narrative, as it is simply trying to convey feeling and emotion.

Most of the dances are performed on a theater stage. This is about a little over half of the dances, maybe 60 or 70 percent. The rest of the dances are performed outside in various locations in Wuppertal in West Germany. Wuppertal is just outside the main city of Düsseldorf, near the Belgium and Netherlands border. Wenders picks some interesting places, including a park, a swimming pool, downtown streets, a tram with overhead tracks, a house with glass walls and even what looks like a mountainside cliff.

Aesthetically, these exteriors are beautiful and add air and life to the dances from a mere environmental standpoint. Yet, they're only backdrops. The choreography never incorporates any elements from these environments. The dancers become detached figures, often time unnoticed in these exterior environments. This is in contrast to the interior locations, which make great use of the environment, even when it's mostly a bare stage.

The opening dance number, for example, starts off with the company walking in a procession. A sheer curtain divides the company in half, and as the camera swings in between the two halves, a simple yet elegant 3D effect is achieved. The dancers, divided again between the women in not much more than slips and the bare-chested men, are moving on a floor of dirt.

One of the next numbers puts three dancers in a room filled with chairs and a handful of tiny tables. I believe the number is called "Cafe Muller." Two of the dancers are women and they move and dart across the stage as though blind. This is not a negative criticism. I merely suggest that I believe the two women are portraying characters who are probably literally blind. The women continue to move gracefully. The third dancer, a male, has to throw the chairs and tables aside in order to prevent the women from crashing into them.

Other numbers make use of the chairs. The dancers are off and on them or tossing them around or even stacking them in one instance. The dancers are slamming into walls or onto the floor. They make use of that space. It even culminates in a number where there is a waterfall on stage and a huge boulder. The dancers are off and on the big rock. The stage eventually floods with water and the dancers are sliding and splashing through it. All this water sport is pretty in 3D.

Yet, it stands against the lifelessness of the exterior dances where the men and women hardly, if never, interact with what's around them as they do on the stage. They hardly even touch anything that's outside.

What was most remarkable about Bausch's work here was the lack of large group numbers. The opening number is a group dance with every member of the company. It features a lot of synchronized moves, which are all very impressive. They also feature big arm gestures where the dancers will repeatedly reach up and out, as well as repeated bends and contractions of their whole bodies.

Bausch described her dancers as being like painters. Therefore, their arm and leg movements are like brush-strokes. Their bodies are the brushes. The space occupied on stage is the canvas, but it's not about creating a specific picture, as some painters don't do. The dancers are trying to paint emotions. The two main emotions that Bausch wants to portray are fragility and strength, often concurrently.

The easiest way she portrays these two emotions at once is through trust falls. A woman stiffens as straight as a board and tilts to one side as a male catches and stands her upright. One of the most powerful expressions of fragility and strength concurrently is a man who approaches four women on stage and proceeds to drop his pants. It's not in a sexual way. It's a bold move to get at Bausch's diametrically-opposed feeling.

Another number, which isn't sexual, features a group of men coming up to a woman center stage and aggressively molesting her. No one removes her clothing, but at times it felt like a gang rape. That might be an extreme interpretation. Yet, it's a weird and strong moment that's very evocative, which probably was Bausch's hope.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for some sensuality, partial nudity and smoking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.


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