AN EARLY SCENE in Pina 3D depicts a pack of men and women in sheer negligees, confined to a square plot of soil in a blackened studio. They're performing one of the most notorious pieces in dance history, Le Sacre du Printemps. Sacre's premiere, in 1913 Paris, caused riots; the work's "primitive" dance, sacrificial theme, and Stravinsky's dissonant score came as a shock to classical aesthetics. This reference point of astonishment and innovation is threaded throughout Pina 3D, which is a hypnotizing, impactful, and pioneering meditation—and the culmination of a longstanding friendship between director Wim Wenders and prominent dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch.
As an arthouse film-slash-documentary—the first of its kind in 3D—Pina delves into typical Wenders topics like desire and existential loneliness, which are a natural pairing with Bausch, whose work addresses the male-female bond with desperation and conceptual rigor. But you don't need to follow the avant-garde to appreciate this film; the energy of seeing dance in 3D sweeps you up into any arthouse weirdness.
Scenes alternate between Bausch's staged choreography and testimonies of those who danced with Bausch's company, the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. The performances are visceral to the point of being grotesque, with performers either tracing the same piece of stage again and again or exhausting themselves with obsessive-compulsive gestures. The interviews are conducted in every language imaginable, revealing just how far-reaching Bausch's influence was; above all, the film is a moving tribute to the artist, who died suddenly of cancer just days before shooting of the movie began.
Renowned as a unifier of theater, performance art, and dance, and already famous by the 1970s, it's hard to analyze Bausch or to pinpoint her art; the New York Times once called her "the most deliberately vague of artists." Most likely her work is better felt than intellectualized—and Wenders' 3D gives us that chance.