Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wings of Desire

"Wings of Desire" aka "Der Himmel über Berlin" (Wim Wenders, 1987)

"I can't see ya, but I know you're here.
I can feel it. I wish I could see your face.
I have so much I want to tell you. I'm a friend.

Among the loveliest, most complicated and free-thinking films ever made, Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire" (he actually prefers that title to the German "The Heavens over Berlin") takes an angel's eye view of humanity shuffling through the everyday. Being angels, their vision is always a dream-like black and white, reminiscent of the look of UFA films. And they conduct their busy-body surveillance unseen, except by young children, other angels and the actor Peter Falkwho can "feel" their presence. Wenders creates a dream-like world for them, passing through walls (and over Berlin Walls), a whispering of voices always in the background as stray thoughts pass their notice—their favorite hang-out being a library, where they watch over the studious and the inquisitive and the poetic, drinking in their new thoughts and understandings. Unlike the people of Berlin,* the Angels are not hemmed in by borders, physical or political, they come and go as they please, giving aid to the afflicted, reflecting joy where they can.

We observe two in particular, Damiel (
Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), who compare notes on the new things they've seen during their rounds (while sitting unseen in a convertible in a show-room—they seem to like sitting in vehicles) and express a certain envy over the sensations they've seen in the tangible world. One can see a certain amount of Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" series as inspired by this film, especially in the recitation of the free-form thoughts that spiral through humans' brains. That the script was not set in stone during filming, but was improvised and honed by the writer, director and cast is remarkable given the well of imagery the dialog evokes.

For Damiel, the empathy his rounds evoke and the longing he feels crashes to Earth when he passes a circus and sees trapeze artist Marion (
Solveig Dommartin, who did her own stunts) who also sports wings in her work. Drawn to her, drawn to Falk, he can't resist the urge to experience life as a human and walk among us, and Ganz lights up once experiencing color, taste and touch. For Wenders, the passage from angel to human is not a fall from Grace but a maturation, a risk; it is one thing to give comfort, and quite another to give and to take it. That takes another kind of grace, entirely.

Wings of Desire" has a 1993 sequel:
Wenders' "In weiter Ferne, so nah!" ("Faraway, so Close!") and was churned into a bland Americanized remake ("City of Angels" because it's set in Los Angeles) that has none of the lyricism and all of the ginned-up sentimentality mixed with "jeopardy spikes" that come from the Hollywood script-mills.

* I was going to say "Berliners," but why make the same mistake JFK did?


Walaka said...

A favorite. Your essay felt almost as lyrical.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Thanking you....but I find that hard to fathom...it's such a miracle of a movie.

Got another favorite from the past that I revisited (and remembered how much I enjoyed it) tomorrow.