Cinema releases: April 21

Pina is an important film. It’s not quite the coming of sound – but it reveals 3D as a genuine tool that can be used to generate things beyond thrills, removing the stigma of cheapness and sensationalism from the form and proving without doubt that it can be beautiful. Those who claim Avatar did that must remember that that was animation, fiction, obvious make-believe. Pina is the real world.

The film is a tribute to the German modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch (1940-2009), leader of the experimental Tanztheater Wuppertal and friend of the director Wim Wenders, who had long hoped to make a film of her work, but until the new advances in 3D didn’t see how such a project might be realised. At precisely the point it could – better cameras etc – Bausch died of cancer (from diagnosis to death a mere five days), forcing Wenders to make a film about her dancers instead.

The movie is simple: individuals in her troupe speak about Bausch and then, in 3D, recreate some of Bausch’s most famous routines. The effect is not simple. A woman stands on a chair and then dives through a man’s arms like a fish. A woman huddles close to a muscled man, so it seems she has arms like Popeye and a neck like Thor. Even the sound seems 3D – impudently appearing behind your ear and in what feels like your hair.

For 3D to work movement is everything, which is why Werner Herzog’s recent film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the 30,000-year-old cave artwork at Chauvet in France, failed to ignite. In truth that was a rather dashed-off project in general, but crucially the paintings are 2D. Sure it was nice to see them so close, but 3D could do nothing with them. In Pina, when a dancer comes towards you in front of a dark background and then stops to float lazily in the air, followed by a camera dollying quickly to the right – blurred and sparkling – your eyes fall out of your head. You find yourself in and out of a trance, considering the thousand layers of depth through the surface of the screen.

And this new 3D can do amazing things with actual light and shadow, moving between it so dramatically, so enormously, you begin to ask if it’s possible fully to control the effects artistically. How to contain this? It’s incredibly exciting. Fred Astaire spent three-quarters of his time on his films working out the camera movements, knowing what even the most basic cameras could bring to motion. Can you imagine what he might have done with 3D at this level? Imagine seeing the car chase in French Connection like this! Or Brando staggering up the dock into our arms at the end of On The Waterfront!  

How I Ended the Summer heralds a new era of commercial viability in Russian film, where $100m-plus is now being invested a year so the turnover can be faster and the films less self-consciously Soviet.

There’s an air of The Shining to this drama about a scientist and a research student sitting it out for a season in a remote meteorological station in the Arctic. The younger man, Pavel, finds it harder – chucking himself across the landscape listening to electro or sitting disconsolate on sofas, silver hooped earring in one ear, eyes blue as delphiniums. Every day, he and his boss come together to check the instrument that measures radioactivity levels. The days plod by. Talk of bears. Walrus stew. Fishing trips for pretty arctic trout. And then Pavel does something foolish. Now there are no secrets, no scruples, no law. Shot on super-frank digital film it captures the dilapidated shacks – the ancient mattresses on bunks, pillows like bags of cement – with what builds to be a horrifying clarity. It’s as though everything repressed and unconscious has become real enough to be photographed. What a terrific film.

A catastrophic reception in America for the remake of Arthur means that the flick is being slipped out in Europe relatively quietly. The (rather too delighted) verdict from the US is that Russell Brand, as the wealthy innocent made famous by Dudley Moore in 1981 is “not that funny”. Certainly he isn’t here, speaking unceasingly in a baby voice with all life sucked from his patter. The dire script is from Peter Baynham – of Alan Partridge, Brass Eye and Jam. I can’t believe he wrote it. I mean I literally can’t believe he wrote it – it has executive interventions written all over it.

Brand’s body has been waxed and buffed, his hair trimmed and conditioned. Always a dandy – but one that smelled as much of sweat as lacquer – he’s utterly desexed here. A sailor out of uniform. Perhaps he could feel the diminishment of his powers (this is a man famously used to seeing women melt like butter in a heatwave) because in some scenes he seems actively scared – like a squirrel clinging to a hillside. Still, those tempted to dismiss him as a busted flush should hold fire – all the comic leading men (Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey) have flops on their résumés. This remake was just a bad idea all round. The original Arthur was almost accidentally charming. Simply impossible to recreate.

Luc Besson’s screen adaptation of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a Franco-Belgian comic strip about a gutsy female novelist, is complete twaddle, trafficking heavily in bad CGI (dinosaurs, mummies) and prosthetics (the divine Mathieu Amalric is in it apparently – but under which false nose?).  

Being a long, narration-free documentary about ageing shepherds and the annual movement of their flocks across the wilds of Montana, Sweetgrass is probably the definition of niche, but one dedicated to some of the highest ideals of film: it brings us information from a place we’ve never been, and with a rapturous innocence. Just take a sandwich.  

Nigel Andrews is away

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