WINGS OF DESIRE (DER HIMMEL UBER BERLIN)
(director/writer: Wim Wenders; screenwriter: Peter Handke; cinematographer: Henri Alekan; editor: Peter Przygodda; music: Jurgen Knieper; cast: Bruno Ganz (Damiel), Solveig Dommartin (Marion), Otto Sander (Cassiel), Curt Bois (Homer), Peter Falk (Peter Falk), Nick Cave (Himself); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Anatole Dauman; Orion; 1987-W.Germany/France-in German, French and English, with English subtitles)
“Demands to be seen by cinema lovers.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Wim Wenders (“Lisbon Story”/”Paris, Texas”/”Buena Vista Social Club”)makes a risky whimsical movie about a divided Berlin and its melancholy residents, and also throws a few angels into the mix to stir the pot. It turns into an inspired magical film that is a blend of comedy, romance, politics (which never clearly gets at what Wenders is driving at) and philosophical musings. The German title, Der Himmel uber Berlin, means the sky over Berlin.
There are invisible angels (the ones found in poetry, not those in Christian dogma), men in overcoats, who are perceived as guides from the divine world for children, the innocent and those with a sense of awe for life’s treats. Two descended guardian angels, Cassiel (Otto Sander) and Damiel (Bruno Ganz), while hovering around unseen in West Berlin observe in black and white the lives of those in the city and eavesdrop on their thoughts.
The angels are captivated by the following three mortal characters: American actor Peter Falk, who is in town making a movie about Nazis that’s being shot in a World War II bunker. While grappling to get a handle on his detective part, Falk feels the presence of an angel around him and will later tell the angel that he’s been a fallen angel for the last thirty years (Tell me it’s not true … Columbo!). An aging frail writer named Homer (Curt Bois), first seen at the National Library, ponders the devastation of the past and is troubled that the world might no longer have story-tellers as spiritual guides when he dies. The lonely but beautiful French trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin) sulks that her struggling small-time French Alekan Circus, which pitches its tents in a vacant lot, is forced to disband for the season and she might have to be a waitress again. The angel Damiel falls madly in love with her and decides to relinquish his immortality to become a mortal human being so he can experience love first-hand. Damiel seeks to know what no angel knows–what it’s like to love someone.
Writers Wenders and Peter Handke have shifted the focus away from the observations of the angels on the mortals and instead they wonder what it would be like for an angel to become human in such a harsh and sad world and live to enjoy the everyday things–drinking coffee, feeling the temperature changes and burning with all kinds of desires.
Australian punk rockers Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play at the raunchy clubwhere Damiel meets Marion, where she defines in a long romantic sermon how she wishes their relationship should materialize.
The 79-year-old Henri Alekan, the legendary cinematographer on Jean Cocteau’s Beauty And The Beast, as a favor to Wenders came out of retirement to work on Wings of Desire. His stunningly beautiful black and white photography is a reminder of how they did it right during the early silents and during the days of German expressionism. The film goes from color, representing the mortal world, to black and white representing the otherworld. Its magic is more in the photography than in the lyrical story, that turns soggy with a sentimental love story and risks falling into something so absurd that it’s risible. But it’s miraculously rescued by all the magnificent visuals and haunting impressions gathered in by the observant angels, that turn this arty contemporary adult fable into an ambitiously unique pure cinema experience that demands to be seen by cinema lovers– those who still can be thrilled by story-tellers.
REVIEWED ON 3/23/2011 GRADE: A