I've never been entirely convinced by Wim Wenders as a narrative film director-- his talents have always been more situated in the realm of conceptual art than that of the storyteller. Here he gets a chance to apply his conceptual art strengths to one of the few great artists of our time, Pina Bausch. The results are often startling, enthralling, and affirmative.
The opening excerpt from Bausch's RITE OF SPRING ranks as one of the greatest pieces of filmmaking I've ever seen. There is no doubt that Wenders has found the best possible use for 3D. To be frank, I would have preferred to see the entire performance rather than the documentary which enfolds it, but ideally we can have both (hint to distributors: there are at least five DVDs to be gleaned from the various dances here. I'd buy all of them!!)
The central section of the film includes excerpts from Bausch's more cerebral work, and it is here that perhaps the film is less effective. While the work itself is absolutely fascinating, the series of tableaux which Wenders constructs breaks the spell essential to fully entering Bausch's world. On the other hand, Wenders does create some extraordinary moments possible only through film-- by, for example, intercutting between dancers of various ages-- thus participating in the creative process and making the film itself a document keeping Bausch alive.
Meanwhile, we get- a la "A Chorus Line," the dancers themselves, introduced in close ups Avedon would have been proud of. This device is interesting, if not, perhaps, in the end, terribly well integrated. Threading through the film as a leitmotif we get a processional that reminded me of the end of 8 1/2 (A.O. Scott cites "The Seventh Seal," which also suggested itself to me). It works (we are reassured that the stream of energy Bausch left behind remains) but these cinematic gestures don't approach the brilliance of the work celebrated by the film itself (which is just as it should be, I suppose).
All in all, not one of the greatest documentaries of all time, but absolutely essential, nonetheless. Magnificent!