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Wim Wenders: Pina

The iconic filmmaker discusses his emotive elegy to the experimental choreographer Pina Bausch and tells us why dance is the language of the soul

Wim Wenders is arguably one of the most groundbreaking filmmakers of our era, bringing us classic meditations on life, love and identity such as Paris Texas and Wings Of Desire. It seems entirely fitting then that it should be he who finally employs the three-dimensional film form to stunningly emotive effect, elevating it from mere spectacle to a thing of almost impossibly dynamic beauty. Pina is his absorbing elegy to his late-friend Pina Bausch – the radical and game-changing German dance choreographer who transformed contemporary dance forever with seminal works such as Cafe Muller.

Featuring the troupe of dancers she mentored, whose ages span generations, the film recreates some her classic routines against backdrops as disparate as industrial estates and mountain tops in a fast-paced and supremely powerful series of vignettes. Bausch died unexpectedly just before filming began and we see her only in ghostly asides, all of which lends the film a poignancy that somehow speaks volumes about mortality. Here, the director tells us how exposure to the choreographer and her work changed his life, and why even in death, she might just change yours too.

Dazed Digital: It’s clear in this film that Pina Bausch had a profound impact on the lives of her dancers. In what way did she transform your own view of the world?
Wim Wenders: I first met Pina in 85 and I had an overdose – I saw six plays in a row in one go, and I have to mention that I had to be forced to go to the first few. I had no inclination for dance then, and I had nothing much to do with dance. I didn’t hink it was for me. I was practically forced to go and see Cafe Muller in Venice but seeing it changed my life. It had a huge impact upon me and was an emotional experience like I had never had before. We became friends and the next film I made was Wings Of Desire. I don’t think I would ever have made that film without the encounter with Pina... That’s not to say there was any conscious resolve – it was more in the liberty that Wings Of Desire took and in the choreographed quality that it had, especially in the circus scenes.

Dazed Digital: This film seems to celebrate the way someone who has passed on can live on through those people they have touched, did you consciously try and communicate that?
Wim Wenders: Well, it was really amazing how present Pina was in this ‘body’ that she left behind; this body composed of the 36 dancers that are her orchestra – not only how present she was in their spirit and their work, but also in their attitude. That was the most amazing thing I discovered working with these dancers for one year, just how much Pina had shaped their being; shaped their existence. I mean, you could never imagine that you could make a film with 36 actors, or a ballet company or a movie cast for a whole year and never ever have a single moment of jealousy, never ever have a single complaint, never an act of ego-tripping, or anything like that...  It is unthinkable, but that is how we worked, and that was Pina’s presence. The way that all the dancers had worked with her was extraordinary – the complete reversal of what theatre and dance usually is.

Dazed Digital: In what sense was it a reversal?
Wim Wenders: They worked in such a way that none of them played a part; none of them played a character or a role. Pina helped them to strip everything and get to the core of themsleves, so they were themsleves as much a person can ever be oneself. She managed to take them to that point where they were actually themselves, and that was the amazing legacy of her work. I had had the suspicion that the way she had selected her dancers was very special and that they were very special people, but I didn’t know how far she had gone with that, and how much these people had really revealed themsleves to her. They were able to remain themselves throughout, despite all the traps – such as the temptation to perform – that were there for them to fall into. 

Dazed Digital: Do you think dance is the most emotive of all languages?
Wim Wenders: It is certainly the simplest, and strangely enough, it’s still the most unknown. It still escapes me that Pina could have invented something so simple that didn’t exist before. It’s almost inconceivable that nobody else did this kind of work, and yet nobody did. Pina found it empirically and she found it because she didn’t trust anything that had come before, and because she realised that she had to start from her own spirit.

Dazed Digital: How did she change the way in which artists use their bodies expressively?
Wim Wenders: She discovered a new form. The language of our body has always been there, of course, but we didn’t know so much about it. I mean, as filmmakers we have actors in front of our lens – famous actors with the legendary mysterious ‘presence’ of an actor – and what those actors do is essentially about body language; it’s about the way they feel inside their bodies and the way they express interior things. We feel we know something about this as filmmakers and that we can judge it and give advice to actors and make corrections, but when you see Pina’s work? Then you realise we are all fucking amateurs in this language – we don’t know much at all about it. We simply haven’t had the patience and the perseverance that she had in studying it, and in taking all language out, taking all biography out... all of those tools that we use to surround our actors in movies. Pina stripped all of it away, she just reduced it to identity.

Dazed Digital: Is your hope to translate this relatively unknown language to a wider audience?
Wim Wenders: 3D technology certainly gave us the chance to lead the audience into Pina’s realm in a very different way, so people can really feel the contagious magic of the dance and the presence, or aura, of these people. It’s almost like the aura of a person survives in way that it never could on film, because film by definition was flat, and aura has something to do with the body and with volume, and sheer presence. My hopes for this film are just that people will come to see it who felt like me before I encountered Pina – people who think that dance is not for them. It is a language that is both so basic and so inventive, and it can have such emotional impact.

Pina is in cinemas today