The Set-Up: Along with the age-old theological question "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin" is the more practical one: "On a shoestring budget, how do you depict the fall of an angel from the Heavenly Realms to Terra Firma?"
For Wim Wenders, in his classic Wings of Desire, it's a matter of transitioning two worlds of cinema: the current world of Kine-color filmographie, and the more aesthetic, more ethereal past world of black-and-white. Tracking shots move and cross-over and fade. The images for Damiel go from gray to muted colors to the entire spectrum, and...in a poignant moment...Damiel picks up the most common of Earth-bound things—Earth, a rock—and holds it to his brow, a moment of tactile communing before "taking the plunge." And the place to make the transition is the Berlin Wall—the very tactile separation of West and East Berlin—where Damiel gets a painful lesson in his new reality—something we can all relate to—by being clobbered with remnants of our past (no matter how angelic).
The Story: After who-knows-how-many-years of observing the travails of mankind from the Heavens over Berlin, the angel Damiel (Bruno Ganz) has decided to spread his wings by shedding them, and become human. His inspiration? A circus wire-performer with her own wings and her own angelic countenance (Solveig Dommartin). He talks about his plans with his confidante, Cassiel (Otto Sander).
DAMIEL: I'm going to "take the plunge."
DAMIEL: An old human expression I've just come to understand today. "Now or never." Time to ford the river.
DAMIEL: But there is no other bank. There is only the river. Onward into the ford of time, the ford of Death. Let's climb down from this watch-tower of the never-born. To watch is not to look down from above, but at eye-level.
DAMIEL: First, I'll take a bath.
DAMIEL: Then, I'll get a shave, from a Turkish barber, if possible, who'll also massage me down to my fingertips.
DAMIEL: Then, I'll buy a newspaper and read it from headlines to horoscope.
DAMIEL: On my first day, I'll let everyone wait on me. If someone wants something, he can ask the next guy. If someone trips over my legs, he'll apologize profusely.
DAMIEL: I'll be jostled around, and I'll jostle them back.
DAMIEL: I'll get a table in a packed restaurant.
DAMIEL: I'll be familiar to everyone, and suspect to no one.
DAMIEL: I won't say a word, but I'll understand every language.
That will be my first day.
CASSIEL: And none of it will be true.
DAMIEL: I'll take her in my arms...
DAMIEL: ...and she'll take me in hers.
Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin)
Words by Peter Handke, Richard Reitinger, and Wim Wenders
Pictures by Henri Alekan and Wim Wenders
Wings of Desire is available on DVD from The Criterion Collection