Pina Bausch as Herself
Regina Advento as Herself
Malou Airaudo as Herself
Ruth Amarante as Herself
Rainer Behr as Himself
Andrey Berezin as Himself
Damiano Ottavio Bigi as Himself
Bénédicte Billet as Herself
Ales Cucek as Himself
Clementine Deluy as Herself
Josephine Ann Endicott as Herself
Lutz Forster as Himself
Pablo Aran Gimeno as Himself
Mechthild Grossman as Herself

First, we set the stage.

Pina Bausch was one of the giants of, not just German dance, but modern dance as a whole, helping to usher in the wave of dance theater – Tanztheater – into the modern dance oeuvre since the 1970s. Combining acting with intricate set design, score and other hallmarks of what we would call a narrative theater experience, Bausch’s work seems a natural to entrance a venerable avant-garde director, someone with a firm understanding of how cinema works, who wants to push those boundaries, and who obviously prefers stories and ideas not normally part of the mainstream world.

Enter Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire”), who has for several years been attempting to make a documentary of Bausch and her work. It’s the kind of thing which sounds like a perfect fit for the eclectic director, and it is in every possible way. With the growth of 3D technology, Wenders has tried for several times to make a 3D documentary to push the technology away from gimmickry and towards an actual new form of cinema.

In “Pina” he has found his theme to give voice to his form in his tribute to the choreographer and her work.

Cutting back and forth between dancers performing on the stage at the Tanztheater Wuppertal and performing the same works outdoors in diligently chosen real world locations (a train platform, a creek bed, etc.), Wenders has both turned Bausch’s choreography into cinema and captured its essence. Along the way he has endeavored, and largely succeeded, in actually putting the audience into the dance in the way a live audience never could be in some of the most beautiful 3D photography of the year.

Next, we tear the stage down.

Bausch herself died shortly before Wenders film was set to begin shooting. So instead of a documentary about the woman and how she came to create what she did, Wenders has chosen to make a showcase of her art instead.

And in the process, combining his 3D cameras with a wealth of techniques–from old school montage to modern tilt-shift lenses in order to put the audience on the stage and outside and confound the senses in the process–he has taken her work apart to see how it works and affects us.

Throughout the four major stagings–and “Pina” is more of a dance exhibition film than what we would normally call a documentary–Wenders breaks his film down further with considerations and recollections from long time members of Bausch’s company in series of voiceovers and portraits.

That said, “Pina” still performs the task a good documentary sets out to: it illuminates its subject. Though we get only small snippets from the biography, history and style of the woman herself, we get two full of hours of the real person in the form of her art. Wenders has taken the tack that in their creation an artist is at their most naked, their most revealed. In that sense, “Pina” tells us more about the woman than any amount of conventional interviews ever could.

Which probably won’t make it any easier to sit through for those used to more standard films, even among the documentary set. Though just two hours long, the performance art nature of it all can make it seem to drag on unless a viewer is willing to just surrender themselves to it rather than expecting something different out of it.

If you are willing, however, “Pina” is as rich in imagery and emotion as any film released this year and in some cases moreso. It pushes the boundaries of how to communicate these things to an audience and shows us what we could and should really be doing with 3D instead of “Piranha” remakes. Check it out; it’s worth it.