At the time of her death in 2009, the German-born Pina Bausch was one of the most celebrated dancer/choreographers of her time – or any time. You won't find that kind of biographical detail in fellow countryman Wim Wenders' Oscar-nominated performance film/tribute piece, but you won't necessarily miss it, either, not with the utterly transfixing, exhilarating spectacle of bodies in motion.
The bulk of the film is comprised of a series of staged performances of Bausch's works, including Cafe Müller, which arthouse audiences will recognize from the opening frames of Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her. These set-pieces are bracketed by breathtaking solo and duo performances set in the wilds, so to speak, of the cityscape – an industrial park, an escalator, a moving tram – and by the heartfelt testimonials of troupe members reflecting on their experiences with Bausch. (Wenders had intended to collaborate directly with Bausch on the film until her sudden death just days after a cancer diagnosis and days before shooting was to begin.) We don't learn much about the dancers, either – the title makes explicit the only name we're meant to reflect on here – but over the course of the film, they become recognizable and distinct in their striking diversity of age, nationality, and body type.
Holdouts to the 3-D revolution – I count myself one of them – will probably crumble at Wenders' commanding use of the technology. (When dancers smear their hands and faces through dirt, the tactile sensation is very nearly transferable to the audience.) Wenders' camerawork also underscores the inferiority of so much of the framing of contemporary cinema’s action and dance choreography with its complacent reliance on jump cuts, extreme close-ups, and a dizzy-making disregard for the establishment of a coherent grasp of geography and a performer's place within it. Excepting the occasional shot that forces the eye on a particular dancer, Wenders largely films the action in a way that re-creates the effect of attending a performance in a proscenium theatre – only without having to scrabble for the best seat in the house. No matter where you are, you're already in it.
A correction of fact has been made since original publication of review.