Pina review – Wim Wenders’ heartfelt 3D tribute to choreographer Pina Bausch

Wenders’s film about Bausch, who died during production, uncovers the crucial state of yearning in her work

Wim Wenders's deeply intelligent 3D tribute to the work of the modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch was conceived as a collaboration with her. Bausch died during the production in 2009, and the resulting film achieves a poignant, elegaic quality, shot through with an overwhelming sense of loss, both on the part of Bausch's dancers, whose thoughtful interviews and dance sequences form the film's backbone, and the director himself. Bausch was a reticent figure, wary of personalities and insistent on letting her work speak for her. She would undoubtedly have been a distant figure in this film had she lived, but now her absence has a sombre, almost tragic quality. The dancers seem like grownup children who have lost a parent, or even apostles of a spiritual movement whose leader has met some kind of sacrificial destiny.

My colleague Judith Mackrell has already offered her expert verdict on the effect of 3D in filming dance. To her judgment, I can only add that for me, the shapes and forms of the dancers have an overwhelming physicality. The choreography has the air of a mysterious rite, released from the traditional arena of the theatre into the streets, though it is fundamentally filmed head-on, as if through a proscenium arch. (The director has said his inspiration for the film was the U2 3D concert movie.)

If its meaning can be summed up – though it is arguably the point of an abstract artform that it can't be summed up – it is probably in the words of a dancer who asks, "What are we yearning for? Where does all this yearning come from?" We spend our lives yearning, and then, in the shadow of mortality, our yearning is redirected backwards, a yearning to understand our past lives, our youth, and again forwards – a yearning to understand the point of our death. Wenders's movie uncovers the crucial state of yearning in Bausch's work.

Bausch was famously the director of the Wuppertal Tanztheater, where she created pieces such as her Cafe Müller in 1978; this is a very European film, and the artistic practice described in it seems very German in its high seriousness and high-mindedness. Could Bausch have flourished in the same way in Britain, with its broadloid Boulevardpresse and its irony'n'celebs media culture? Perhaps not. But then again, she is perhaps not an obvious fit with Wenders, with his fascination with Americana and pop music. Nonetheless, he has created a tremendous film that sets out to make the new 3D technology an integral part of what is being created – a film with clarity and passion.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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