Wim Wenders' 1987 opus Wings of Desire, opens on gloomy Berlin, still crumbling into disrepair after its destruction by the bombing of 1945 and decades of neglect. On the soundtrack we hear the poem that will reverberate throughout: "Als das kind kind war," (or "When the child was still a child") and see the angels. Dressed in dark overcoats and wearing expressions of quiet benevolence, they watch the city and its inhabitants (to whom they are invisible, except for the occasional child, who will point up into the sky at a figure only it can see) and listen. Their purpose isn't clear, as shown in the two angels whom Wenders focuses on - Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) - they seem to be caretakers of memory, jotting down notes of random ephemera, listening to people's thoughts (one of the film's more amazing, and often-mimicked, tracking shots takes us through autobahn traffic, hearing the interior monologues of each driver). In one of the film's stranger notes, Peter Falk shows up playing himself(?!), in Berlin to shoot a movie. On the street, he turns out to be able to notice the presence of Damiel standing nearby and starts speaking to him about the amazing little things in life like smoking and drinking coffee: "And if you do it together, it's fantastic." Cadaverous goth rocker Nick Cave shows up as himself, too, but that makes a little more sense, the guy was just meant to be shot in black and white.
The rambling story takes on a semblance of shape when Damiel decides to literally fall from grace and become mortal after falling in love with Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a trapeze artist. Plopped onto the streets of Berlin (shot in color now that he's human), Damiel strides around the city searching for his love, with a look of transfixed delight on his face as he takes in every detail that he was only able to study before, and can now experience; while Cassiel watches with a mournful expression in his black-and-white world.
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