Wim Winders’’s 3-D dance documentary Pina played yesterday evening at the 49th New York Film Festival. Sundance Selects will release the movie theatrically in December.
It started out so promising: my 3-D glasses on, I was prepared to lose myself in what is reputed to be the best use so far of this swish sensation in popular motion pictures, and happily prepared to witness Wim Wenders’ comeback (after his disastrous Don’t Come Knocking six years ago, which was not a bad film but simply incoherent). After all, he’s making a documentary in three dimensions about modern dance legend Pina Bausch, a choreographer so fun, intelligent, and crazy—so good—that it would be impossible to fuck this up. The initial images on screen of gauzy curtains suggest the layers of depth on the stage, and the dirt then dumped on that same stage prepares us for Bausch’s fun irreverence. Ah, dance in 3-D is such a good idea, like orchestra seats for 12 dollars. But after this initial scene, Wenders decides to get arty. Do arty dances need arty interpretations, restaged over ravines and on German trams? It’s distracting, and an embarrassing 80s modern dance/arthouse throwback stylistically (and a reminder that Bausch’s dances themselves seem classically timeless). Also, surprisingly and disappointingly, the vast expanses of these location shoots don’t come off well in 3-D while the simple stage set up, with a few accessories to illustrate its depth, do.
Interspersed between the dances are interviews with people who worked with and worshiped Bausch. But these heads don’t talk, they ponder and gaze into the middle distance, while narration and floating subtitles let us know what’s on their minds. It’s a neat trick to keep this from looking like a typical documentary portrait. But it’s annoying as hell. Too bad Wenders didn’t concentrate instead on getting better content, asking better questions, or just letting the dancers dance when what they have to say are mostly vaporous banalities. Worse, besides the opening scene and those subtitles that felt like they were floating somewhere between the movie and your lap, the 3-D goes almost unnoticed. With a simple 3-D setup of Bausch’s mobs of repetitive gestures signaling insistent emotion, with soloists pivoting between strength and pain, with her choreography that’s typified by one direction recounted here (“You just have to get crazier!” she had told one dancer), this could have been a masterpiece. But instead Pina is more Wenders than Bausch.