Incredible stuff. Scarcely have I witnessed a more fluid, synchronous marriage of film and theater. For though this was a film chronicling the ever-inventive and inspiring Pina Bausch, a legendary German modern dance choreographer, it really was theatrical in many dramatic, stunning, and even absurd ways, from staging a carnal gladiatorial fantasia to evoking Cirque du Soleil in feats of balance and whimsy and sheer artistry. Pina's choreography bottles up the dancers with a kind of finicky anxiety that shoots out in angular directions, punctuating with intense explosions of expression, only to retreat back into the previous restraints. The dance pieces often use abundance, either in performers or in certain props or extension of stage (and said staging is often outdoors, be it against nature or craggy or industrial man-made landscapes) to create many thoughtful and gorgeous juxtapositions. And there's just enough tangible story in each piece to really stir the senses, and a winding theme that fits the film's elegiac energy.
And yet, despite such obvious praise, Wim Wenders really makes this film sing (or dance?) with his own artful direction. Involving the audience by incorporating both empty and filled seats in the foreground, and of the silent voiceover testimonials of all the performers, is essential to the viewing experience. The dancer interviews, which I feel is the film's true pièce de résistance, really lures in the viewer with contemplative blurbs from and about each dancer, revealing a glimpse of their humanity (shy, afraid, not crazy enough, etc.) as they reveal the advice and the inspiration of Pina Bausch - who oh by the way had died days before principle photography began. Some criticisms of Pina - the film - stem from not allowing the longer dance pieces play out organically, in that Wenders interjects too often with spliced-in footage from past performances of the same piece, an occasional rumination on art, or gradient editing into different environments between pieces. Which is odd, because I think that approach was paramount to showing the evolution of Bausch's work and the dramatic flow of the entire film itself.
Nevertheless, the knowledge that Pina had recently died is important in this film, lending gravity to scenes of merely showing archive-style footage of Pina in front of the performers. And such scenes reinforce a mournful tone throughout that occasionally bursts with celebration. This seems even more the case as we gradually meet each member of the company, and you begin to recognize everybody in the ensemble scenes, and it creates a feeling of connection, even to the creative process and possibly to Pina herself and her vision by proxy. And I can't think of a more successful, honorable tribute than that. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Full circle.