By Don Simpson | February 10, 2012
Director: Wim Wenders
Writer: Wim Wenders
Starring: Regina Advento, Malou Airaudo, Ruth Amarante, Pina Bausch, Rainer Behr, Andrey Berezin, Damiano Ottavio Bigi, Bénédicte Billet, Ales Cucek, Clementine Deluy, Josephine Ann Endicott, Lutz Förster, Pablo Aran Gimeno, Mechthild Grossmann, Silvia Farias Heredía, Ditta Miranda Jasjfi, Barbara Kaufmann, Nayoung Kim, Daphnis Kokkinos, Ed Kortlandt, Eddie Martinez, Dominique Mercy, Thusnelda Mercy, Cristiana Morganti, Morena Nascimento, Nazareth Panadero, Helena Pikon, Fabien Prioville, Jean-Laurent Sasportes, Franko Schmidt, Azusa Seyama, Julie Shanahan, Julie Anne Stanzak, Michael Strecker, Aida Vainieri, Anna Wehsarg, Tsai-Chin Yu
Two of the greatest living German directors released non-fiction 3-D films in 2011, Werner Herzog released Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Wim Wenders released Pina. Coincidence? I think not. Herzog and Wenders have always pushed the limits of cinema — usually in different directions — so it comes as no surprise that they both decided to approach non-fiction subjects with the use of a third dimension. Upon first reading about both projects, I wondered why Herzog’s cave and Wenders’ dance troupe were perceived as subjects that would benefit from 3-D technology; but after seeing both films, it makes perfect sense. Herzog saw the paintings inside the Chauvet caves as a primitive version of a multidimensional canvas (in other words a very early form of 3-D art), while Wenders realized that dance choreography loses its depth of field when filmed as a two dimensional image.
Both directors were treading new ground… Documentary films such as Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Pina had never been filmed in 3-D before. Additionally, documentaries about cave paintings and dance troupes are typically relegated to the home video market (especially in the United States), never gracing the silver screens of movie theaters. Being that Herzog and Wenders have been winning nominations and awards around the world for these two very unique documentaries, their (and their financiers’) risks have obviously paid off.
I just don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for Herzog and Wenders; they have both made films during their respective careers that I consider to be perfect in every way. But I see Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Pina as their lesser work, films that will be forgotten in a year or two. While I understand why both directors thought their respective projects would benefit from 3-D presentation, I think both directors failed to understand the medium well enough to pull it off. Whereas Herzog seems totally clueless about the lighting and framing that is required to make 3-D work well, Wenders does seem to understand how to frame shots to take full advantage of 3-D. Many of the dance sequences in Pina are perfect examples of exactly how to shoot in 3-D. Where Wenders fails, however, is whenever he strays from the dance sequences, specifically when he films the talking head interviews. Talking head interviews are rarely cinematic, and the third dimension seems to make the image at least three times less cinematic.
Of course, when Wenders initiated this project, the the experimental dance choreographer, Pina Bausch was still alive; in fact, they were working on this project together. When Bausch died suddenly of cancer at the age of sixty-eight, it was two days before their first rehearsal shoot. Upon Bausch’s death, Wenders immediately shut down the production; eventually he resumed with the blessing of Bausch’s family and the encouragement of the members of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal dance company. I suspect if Bausch was still living, this project would have been a much different one; instead, Wenders seems to have felt the need to include footage of the dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal reminiscing about Bausch to the camera. We are never provided with any biographical or historical background on Bausch; if we walk away with any knowledge of who Bausch was, it would be that she was greatly admired but quite intimidating. Basically, we get to watch (in 3-D, no less!) a whole bunch of people rambling on about how much they admired Bausch. Pina feels a whole lot like a eulogy, and that seems to be Wenders’ point; and that is fine, I just did not need for this eulogy to be filmed in 3-D.
If Pina was purely a dance film, like NY Export: Opus Jazz, I probably would have loved it; not that I have an overwhelming fondness for dance films, but because Wenders shows a real knack for filming dance in 3-D. Pina is loosely structured around four of Bausch’s greatest long works — “The Rite of Spring”, “Cafe Mueller”, “Kontakthof” and “Vollmond” — and the sheer beauty and magnificence of the imagery whenever Wenders turns his focus towards these works is astounding; but at the same time it makes the other footage seem all that much more tedious and boring.