Wings of Desire Movie Review

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.

There's only so much of this sort of stuff that the average viewer can take, and many have complained that the film is just too ponderous, too slow, too free of plot, and insistent on simply letting the camera and the angels wander about Berlin, listening to the thoughts of a city. Nobody in their right mind would say that this is a perfect film and every criticism you could make of it is most likely true; most especially the fact that the action, such as it is, comes to a screeching halt in the final scenes as Marion is allowed an interminable monologue about love and life and whatever. It's an insult to those viewers who've allowed themselves to be swept away in Wenders' fairy tale, it grounds us when we want to fly. Wonderfully imperfect, but a gem to those willing to follow along, Wings of Desire would also be just about the last worthwhile film (non-documentary, at least) of Wenders' career.

The MGM Special Edition DVD includes a generous amount of deleted scenes, with commentary from Wenders, mostly just add-ons that wouldn't have added much to the film but length. The exception is a couple scenes with Cassiel, one in which he clowns around watching humans, which adds a little bit of joy to a mostly very serious picture, and a very important cut from the film's climax, in which Cassiel, now apparently human too, meets Damiel and Marion at the Nick Cave concert, and, after a little clowning around, the three of them indulge in, of all things, a cream-pie fight (almost as humorous is hearing Wenders intoning on the soundtrack, "For 25 years, I had wanted to shoot a pie fight.") You can understand why Wenders didn't want to end a dreampiece like this film on such a chaotic, comedic note (and, to be fair, the material itself as shown here probably wouldn't have worked). But what a wonder it would have been to end the film in this manner, not a lessening or undercutting of the film's subject matter, but instead a reaffirmation of the simple joys of the life that these angels were willing to give up eternity in order to experience... a pie fight.

Aka Der Himmel über Berlin.

Swingin' on a star.


Comments

Wings of Desire Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG-13, 1987

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