Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wings of Desire (1987)

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)
Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Genre: Fantasy • Drama
Director: Wim Wenders
Starring: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois, Peter Falk
Language: German, French, English
Duration: 127 min.
Rating: 9.6  

Damiel, is an angel perched atop buildings high over Berlin who can hear the thoughts—fears, hopes, dreams—of all the people living below. But when he falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist, he is willing to give up his immortality and come back to earth to be with her.

Wings of Desire is a film directed by Wim Wenders, with dialog co-written by Peter Handke.  It premiered at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, where Wenders received the award for Best Director.

Usually when I watch movies for the first time, I am constantly aware of the craft, analyzing the acting, dialog, plot points, and technical details, never totally immersed in the experience.  But, every so often I come across a film that is so beautiful and mesmerizing that it instantly transfixes me, almost like the entire world ceases to exist for its duration, then leaves me struggling for days to find the right words to express my feelings about it.  Wings of Desire is one such magical film that will probably take me years to adequately digest. 

The story is as simple as it gets, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), is one of a number of angels and not the stereotypical kind, these are wingless and sharply dressed angels who watch over the city of Berlin, back when it was still divided by a wall.  Damiel floats around like he's done for who knows how long, watching, listening, and sometimes lending unseen divine support to random ordinary citizens.  However, he is beginning to get restless in his role of silent witness, seeing and hearing but never feeling or truly interacting with the world.  After encountering the alluring Marion (Solveig Dommartin) a beautiful and lonely trapeze artist, and following a chance meeting with actor Peter Falk, playing himself, Damiel decides to literally take the plunge, fall to earth and become human to experience life and love.

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Legendary cinematographer Henri Alekan's flowing and elegant visuals are the backbone of the film, showcasing the streets and sights of life in late 80's Berlin with masterful precision.  The camera hovers and glides even indoors as can be seen in an astonishing sequence filmed in the vast Berlin State Library where the angels prefer to gather.  An important poetic aspect of the film's look is the stylistic trick of shooting mostly in a stark black and white, to represent the point of view of the angels, and switching to a full lustrous color to represent the world that humans see.  This serves to highlight the contrast between humans and angels, who although are immortal, lack the ability to have a complete experience of the world.

A divide that Wenders is able to exploit so well and why I believe this film is so special.  He takes the time to thoroughly establish the angels' perspective so that when he shows Damiel longing for such simple things as holding a rock, sipping coffee, or feeling the weather; it makes the viewer suddenly aware and appreciative of all these little things.  The day after watching this I felt compelled to break my usual routine and ignore responsibilities to instead wander outside and watch the autumn leaves blow around for a couple hours.

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Music is another aspect of Wenders' films that I've noticed is always brilliant, here we get an emotive classical score by Jürgen Knieper that complements the cinematography well, and also two wonderful live musical performances from Aussie post-punk groups Crime and the City Solution and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

I don't know why I was so affected by this film, maybe its the combination of pure beauty, sublime poetic language, and superb acting, or maybe I just needed a genuine uplifting and life affirming antidote, after having just watched Melancholia.  Whatever the case, it brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion, which is a rare enough thing, but it has also made a profound positive effect on the way I see the world.  A remarkable accomplishment and nothing less than a masterpiece of cinema for lovers of film and lovers of life. 

Bonjour Tristesse

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)

Wings of Desire • Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)


Michael Parent said...

This is an outstanding review BT! I remember in your review of Pina I recommended Wenders' Paris,Texas and this one. As I see you catched up very fast on those blissful films! However, personally I prefered Paris, Texas to Wings of Desire but it is only a question of tastes. Again excellent work!

Max Covill said...

I didn't get the same feeling that you got from watching this, but I remember really enjoying it. Since I own it I think I'll give it another watch sometime soon. Glad to see you loved this though. There's a lot of strength in the silence of this film...very similar to Wender's Paris, Texas for that reason as well. 

Steven Flores said...

It's been a very long time since I've seen "Faraway, So Close" which I thought was all right with some good moments but it isn't as engaging as "Wings of Desire".

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Like with music sometimes our initial impressions change for films.  I'm going to watch it again in a few months and see if it holds up.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I didn't have any lofty expectations going into it. So I hope that doesn't spoil your experience. But you really must see it.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yes that subway scene is amazing too.  Thanks for your comment Fabomanto.

Bonjour Tristesse said...


CastorTroy said...

Wow you really liked this! I remember one of our writers seeing this recently and absolutely gushing about it too. I shall give it a watch real soon just to see what the fuss is all about ;)

Faboamanto said...

I love this film and have loved it from the first time I saw it, way back in the 80's.  I remember thinking the look of the angels is so striking. One of my favorite scenes is when the angels are on the train/subway, listening. You describe perfectly the effect of seeing this film, I need to do so again soon. 

The Reel Foto said...

an interesting premise..

d_4 said...

You pretty much made me feel like I have to watch this 'now'.

I'm working on it.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

It's an instant favorite that I know I'll be going back to again and again.  I'll be avoiding that remake for sure.  How about the sequel 'Faraway, So Close', have you seen that?

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Indeed Jack, this is also a love letter to Berlin and it never looked better.  I have to try and track down all of Wenders' early works now, to see how he progressed to this point.

....and I'll head over to Ruth's blog to read your review now

Hoi-Ming Ng said...

That there is a compellingly high score, friend. (O___O)

Steven Flores said...

Beautiful.  Now that is a review.  This is definitely one of my favorite films ever.  Just make sure to avoid the godawful remake "City of Angels" with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan.

Jack Deth said...

Hi, Bonjour and company:

Great write-up, critique and photos from a little known gem!

I thought I was the only who'd seen 'Wings of Desire'.. One of Wender's most imaginative and outside  the box offerings.

Who knew that the shadowy, work in progress look of Berlin could be made beautiful?!


If you have a few free minutes. Drop by Ruth's 'FlixChatter'. I have a guest review of 'The Hustler' from 1961 that I think you'll enjoy!

Deadlydollshouse said...

I couldn't agree more with the effect this film has on you. I was listening to a podcast review it sometime back and I actually found myself tearing up a bit, for no real specific reason other than the fact that I just think Wings of Desire is truly beautiful, a film that just loves humanity and finds a way to celebrate it like nothing I've ever really seen. One of my all-time favorites.

FrontRoomCinema said...

Wow this looks and sounds stunning!1 Thanks matey

The Angry Lurker said...

A damn strange but wonderful movie.

Chris said...

I can understand your love for Wings of desire, has an atmosphere unlike any other film. A film I did not admire untill I had seen it again.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Michael.  I'm trying to locate his early films now to see where that magic came from.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah I don't know, It's hard to explain why sometimes a film can just affect you a certain way. 

Unknown said...

I`ve just found this move this year, But I still haven`t seen anything nicer than this. It totally blowed me away for the very same reason.

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