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Over more than 20 years, the eminent German film director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club) engaged in intermittent conversations with Pina Bausch, the internationally prominent choreographer and his countrywoman, about a film collaboration addressing her work. Things never gelled, he has said, until he saw the 2009 concert documentary U2-3D and was inspired by the new digital 3Dtechnology to start practical movie preparations. When Bausch unexpectedly died two days before production was to begin, Wenders first thought the project should be shelved, but reconsidered and proceeded with a new resolve. Pina is the strikingly unusual result.

It’s scarcely biographical, but rather a tribute to his friend and her influential and challenging dance works, a visual record of several of her best-known dances performed by members of her company. And these performances Wenders has expertly captured and framed, if often not in a fashion that makes them accessible and congenial to interpretation. The documentary makes clear his own affinity for them, even his fascination. Not everyone, by any means, will share his deeply rooted affinity for Bausch’s work, not even some of those who often enjoy dance. Bausch’s dances often evince an aesthetic and moral severity, and there’s an unsettling sense of high-modernist alienation floating through much of the work, even in the quirkier, wittier sequences. Wenders’ presentation of them may increase that off-putting sense. He has directed a brief excerpt with three dancers frantically running, thrusting their arms, and contorting themselves on a traffic island amid high-speeding motorists in a bleakly urban setting. Long excerpts from Bausch’s Café Muller (1978) are performed on the open floor of a drab, flatly lit auditorium. Interjected between the dancing segments are very brief “talking head” comments about Bausch from the dancers (who have a surprisingly wide range of ages). Most of these heavily tend to the bromidic.

Wenders claims that it was the digital 3D equipment that made his movie possible, adding visual depth-of-field and allowing him to bring an audience into the action. This will be a claim that’s difficult to evaluate in Western New York because the film isn’t being shown in 3D here. (Many theaters lack the necessary equipment.)

In any event, what he has put on the screen is both his own interpretive enhancement of Bausch’s work and performance style, and an homage to it.

Watch the trailer for Pina

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