By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Wings of Desire (1987). Director: Wim Wenders. Cast: Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander.
To the devil his due. I’ve reviewed two subtitled black-and-white films which dealt with demons and I thought I’d end it all on a different note, by switching to the world of angels.
If you’ve seen the 1998 American remake of this movie, City of Angels, and avoided the original for that reason, you should watch Wings of Desire. The American remake turns its version into the story of an angel who falls in love with a woman. The Goo Goo Dolls crooned, “And I’d give up forever to touch you/Cause I know that you feel me, somehow,” but in Wim Wenders’s flick, the angel wasn’t singing about Meg Ryan. Wings of Desire is the story of an angel who falls in love with a city. The movies are light-years apart in their feel and shape.
Set in 1980s Germany, Wings of Desire follows a couple of angels as they wander around Berlin, observing humans.
They meet a bunch of different characters and live in a melancholic, beautiful, black-and-white world (Angels do not see in colour), existing only to record human existence, sometimes perhaps, to linger upon a lonely human wretch and offer invisible comfort. But mostly, they are simply observers. Wanderers who can never be seen.
One of the angels eventually longs to become human and experience a human existence, as opposed to merely observing it. Part of his desire stems from his meeting with a trapeze artist, but that is only one portion of his motive. He is curious. He wonders what it might be to hold a newspaper or have a coffee. When he sheds his wings and becomes mortal, he experiences life for the first time, and for the first time, the world blooms into colour before his eyes. At the conclusion of the film, he meets by chance with the trapeze artist and we witness what might be the beginning of a love story.
Wings of Desire is a slow, quiet, beautiful film, full of elegant notes. There are scenes, such as the one at the library with the angels sitting or lingering near the patrons, which are almost exquisite in their execution. The shots of the angels standing on high buildings or upon the shoulder of a statue, plus their dress and mannerisms, would later be used by other fantasy and horror movies (the long, dark coat, the poses), but never with such delicate care.
Longing drifts through the movie. Not the longing of romance but of life. What would it be like if you could see the world, but never experience it? It’s a sad and joyous little film at the same time, beautifully photographed, and carefully constructed.
It’s a quiet movie and if you can’t sit still through quiet movies, I would recommend you steer away from it or its sequel Faraway, So Close! If you don’t mind slow and quiet, and are a romantic at heart, I think you might like this one.
Wings of Desire can be purchased through Amazon.com
Angels and Demons Week continues until December 31.