Wim Wenders: U2 concert film inspired 'Pina' in 3D
An interview with German-born filmmaker Wim Wenders, whose dazzling 3D dance film, "Pina," opens in Seattle on Feb. 17, 2012.
Seattle Times movie critic
'Pina'Now playing at Cinerama (2100 Fourth Ave., Seattle; 206-448-6680 or www.cinerama.com); will open Feb. 24 at the Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-324-9996 or www.siff.net). Wenders will be present for a special screening of the film Friday at 8 p.m., followed by a Q&A. Tickets are $30 and available through www.cinerama.com.
More than a quarter century ago, the German-born filmmaker Wim Wenders ("Wings of Desire," "Buena Vista Social Club") attended a dance performance in Venice. It was an evening of work by contemporary choreographer Pina Bausch, and Wenders, who had little interest in dance, went reluctantly (persuaded, he said, by his girlfriend), thinking there must be better things to do on an evening in Venice. Once there, his mind changed quickly. "It was a night that would change my life," he said.
That 1985 evening, remembered Wenders in a telephone interview last week, was the beginning of a long journey that would culminate with "Pina," his 3D documentary tribute to the work of Bausch, who became a beloved friend. ("Pina," an Academy Award nominee for best documentary, is currently playing at Cinerama, and Wenders himself will be present there Friday for a special screening; see box.) "I found myself on the edge of my seat after five minutes. To my heart's amazement, I found myself weeping," he recalled of his first encounter with Bausch's work. "This Pina Bausch, this woman who I had no idea who she was, was showing me more about men and women than I'd ever seen in the entire history of cinema."
The two dances shown that night, performed by Bausch's company Tanztheater Wuppertal, were "Café Müller," a dreamlike 1978 work in which six dancers move like sleepwalkers, and the savage "Le Sacre du Printemps" (Rite of Spring), set to Stravinsky, danced on a stage covered with peat. Both works, indicative of Bausch's dramatic vision of dance theater, would, eventually, find their way into "Pina." After that first evening in 1985, Wenders met Bausch and suggested they make a movie of her dances together. She agreed, but it took many years before Wenders felt that he had the key.
"Each time we met, she made me realize it was time [to make the movie] and I shouldn't keep stalling," said Wenders. "But the reason I was stalling for time and hesitating and delaying year after year was because I was seriously didn't know how I could possibly do it ... I didn't know how cameras could actually capture the splendor and I always felt it was an invisible wall between me and the dancers and I couldn't take it down."
Bausch, he said, understood. "She kept saying, you will have to think harder. There's got to be a good way to film dance. Together we'll come up with something. That was our conversation for 20 years."
Finally, the answer came, from a most unlikely place: Wenders saw, in 2007, the concert film "U2 3D." It was, he said, a "eureka!" moment: 3D was what was needed, because to film dance, you need the extra element of depth — which is flattened in regular 2D. "Finally I could actually join them, I could be in the element," he said. "I was no longer looking into the aquarium with the fish — I could swim with them."
Wenders and Bausch went full steam ahead on the project, setting plans to begin filming as Bausch's company began rehearsals in the fall of 2009. And then tragedy struck: Bausch, at 68, died in June of that year, five days after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Wenders, heartbroken, immediately canceled all plans for the film.
But in his grief, he saw something unexpected: the dances, going on. The dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal, he said, "were very courageous and decided soon after Pina's death to continue the company on their own." A few months later, they notified Wenders that they were rehearsing pieces he and Bausch had planned to film. "They pulled me in and said 'Wim, here we are, rehearsing these two pieces. You were so excited to film in this new language, we are doing them now, and maybe this is the last time. Pina's eyes are so on all of these pieces, she rehearsed the young dancers for them, and we think it's a shame that you're not going to film.' Then it slowly dawned on me that we couldn't make the film we had in mind — the film with Pina was gone, once and for all — but maybe the dancers and I together we could make another film. I realized that they needed it so badly, they needed to find some way to say goodbye to Pina."
So emerged "Pina," a loving, dazzling combination of excerpts from four dances ("Vollmond" and "Kontakhof," as well as "Café Müller" and "Le Sacre du Printemps"), interviews with company members (both verbal and danced — Bausch liked to pose questions to her dancers for them to answer nonverbally), and archival footage of Bausch at work. Wenders resisted the urge to put the film's focus on Bausch herself, remembering his friend's constant refrain whenever the project was discussed. "She always insisted on one basic demand: 'Never make it about myself. Let's not make this biographical in any way. It should only be about the work.' I very much tried to stick to that."
At the end of this quarter-century emotional journey, Wenders knew who should be first to see the finished film: Bausch's company. "It took a few hours before all the tears were cried," he said of the screening he held for them. "I felt that the dancers made it very clear: Together we had done something that Pina would have approved of, that we could be proud of."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com