It is impossible to do with words what Wim Wenders is able to do in his recent non-fiction film, Pina. As Mr. Wenders expressed before an audience last week in Portland, Oregon at Cinema 21, he found the film impossible to make until just recently. He struggled to envision a way to represent the elegant, subtle expression of Pina Bausch’s choreograph on film. For 20 years the desire to capture the experience of a live production captivated him. And then he saw a little film 4 or 5 years ago called “U2 3D.” With the advent of 3D technologies in recent years he discovered the missing element that had been eluding him: space. The difficulty of capturing depth of field for a movie audience (rather than merely its suggestion) was the barrier that he felt he could finally overcome with the arrival of more advanced 3D technologies.
And the results are stunning. With Avatar, James Cameron, brought 3D movies into their wide-eyed adolescence. With Pina, Wim Wenders has finally helped the medium of 3D film to grow into its adulthood.
Wim Wenders uses 3D to deepen and broaden the perspective of his subject. He uses space in such astounding ways for humor, for surprise, for the pure joy of it. He chooses settings for short dance pieces to showcase individual dancers from Pina Bausch’s studio. Each piece is like a poem. And they take you out of the theater and into the wide world. Outdoor settings in traffic, on rail cars, an underground tunnel, postmodern architectural landscapes.
What this movie does so well is that it creates something other than just a live viewing of a ballet or a live dance performence. Rather than a stationary viewing from one vantage point in a ballet theater, the camera’s eye moves with the dancers and amongst them at well-chosen positions on the stage. It envelopes you in purposeful ways in the production itself so that it is almost as if the audience in the movie theater joins in with the performers in ways that it would not be able to in a 2D movie-theater experience and in ways that it can’t in front of a live performance.
Pina is a masterful work. A beautiful blending of performance art, film, tribute, and audience participation. It is one of the most vulnerable, unpretentious films I have ever seen. The dancers play fearlessness fearlessly and they also play fearfulness fearlessly. Pina’s choreography includes dancers moving through several inches of water, several inches of soil, dirt and water flying through the air. There is no hiding, no safety for these performers. The movie does more than tantalize. It envelopes the audience so that the vulnerabilities and confusion and ferocity of the dancers sinks into your skin, or at least it beckons to you to participate. A voyeristic spectacle it is not. In fact, it juggles the subject of voyerism like a cat playing with a ball of yarn.
Perhaps this says more about me than about the movie, but I found myself so caught up in the immediate forms of physical expressions: emotions and desires, sorrows and joys, longings and anger, anxiety and confidence and tenderness that I found my own body twitching involuntarily along with the motion in the space just in front of my 3D glasses.
You can hear the dancers’ movements. You can hear them breathing. You can see their doubts and fears and confidences written in their physical expressions. Perhaps it is impossible to do with words what this movie does with sights and sounds and movements through 3-dimensional space. But this movie does with 3D technology what a live performance and a 2-dimensional film cannot do by themselves.