Reviewed by Marc Glassman
December 23, 2011
Wim Wenders, director
Feature documentary on Pina Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal
Wim Wenders’ artful and heartfelt tribute to dance theater director and choreographer Pina Bausch is in contention for two Oscars, for best Foreign Film and Best Documentary. Wenders’ acclaimed new doc has already played at the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals as well as Telluride. It won the European Film Award for Best Documentary earlier this month.
Performance art; dance docs; avant-garde art; European cultural history
This documentary feature is a heart-felt tribute to Pina Bausch, a unique figure in the dance world. Pina combined many elements of drama into her chorography, allowing her to create compelling works with depth and resonance as well as visual complexity. Wenders includes some footage of Bausch, who died before the film was completed, as well as reminisces from some of her troupe, the Tanztheatre Wuppertal performers.
The film centres on four dances: Stravinsky’s masterpiece Le sacre du printemps, Café Mueller (a café in Bausch’s hometown of Solingen), Kontakthof, and Vollmond. For the Stravinsky piece, Bausch imposed a limitation for the dancers: the floor is covered in a thick mat of peat. In Mueller, a blind woman tries to negotiate her way through a complicated outdoor café; like Pina, she’s caught in the act of remembering. Kontakthof is a more virtuoso piece, with performers, young and old, showing off their terpsichorean talents. In Vollmond, the dancers confront another dilemma: the stage is flooded. In the end, they succeed in their tasks, resembling (to Bausch) the workers of the past, who are evoked in the final images.
Tanztheater Wuppertal desperately wanted this film to be made as “un hommage” to their mentor and friend. They’re great artists in any case—so we see them at their best in this film.
Wenders cancelled the film shoot when Pina suddenly died. He only consented to complete it because the dancers asked him to return. Shooting in 3D, this is a stylish and brilliantly conceived project.
This excellent doc could easily emerge as the Oscar winner this year. The subject—an avant-garde choreographer’s life’s work caught on screen—will only appeal to a niche audience. Unless, of course, it’s the Academy Award winner—which could happen. Then, Pina could do very well indeed.