If I told you the basic story and outline of “Wings of Desire,” you might think it sounded familiar, and you’d be right. The movie was remade in America and called “City of Angels”. That film got mixed reviews, and is now more famous for it’s soundtrack than as a movie. (The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” must’ve played on the radio for two years straight after it came out, not to mention Alanis Morissette's Grammy-winning "Uninvited" are from this film) Brad Silberling reinvented the film as a tragic-romance chick flick. It's not that that narrative isn't in "Wings...", but the narrative isn't what's important about the film. It's the emotion and feeling.
"Hummer Uber Berlin" which translates directly as "Heaven Over Berlin", but was renamed "Wings of Desire" in most of the English-speaking world, is Wim Wenders best movie and I'd argue that it's in the discussion of one of the best movies ever made, and I'd definitely argue that it's the most spiritually uplifting and life-affirming one. Wenders is one of the New German Cinema filmmakers, along with the likes of R.W. Fassbinder and Werner Herzog reintroduced German cinema to the modern world. Wenders specializes in road movies where his characters are always searching for something, usually something intangible, but not always. He’s made numerous films on both sides of the Ocean, and earned an Oscar nomination for his documentary “Buena Vista Social Club”. I've discussed one of his films before, his best American-made movie,“Paris, Texas,” a masterpiece that like, Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” and Ford’s “The Searchers,” involves a man trying to save a woman who might not want to be saved. That one he made from a script by the famed actor/playwright Sam Shepard, and they reunited again a few years back for “Don’t Come Knocking,” about a troubled Western film actor who leaves a set to travel to Montana to find a son he’s just found out about.
“Wings…,” was purportedly filmed without a script by some accounts, improvised from the original idea, and added characters as they became needed. With the pre-Berlin Wall falling time period, and its meandering structure might make the film’s metaphors somewhat elusive to some viewers. This isn’t a film for those looking for a plot, and the movie’s climatic moments don’t take place until an hour and a half into the film. The movie follows two angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz, Germany’s Gerard Depardieu) and Cassiel (Otto Sander); they’re watcher angels who live out eternity, well, watching people, able to hear their thoughts, but unable to touch, feel, smell, or in any way alter the lives of the humans, although occasionally their presence can be sensed mostly be children.
They follow numerous characters, including Homer (Curt Bois) a Holocaust survivor who as an author struggles with his ability to tell stories that must be told. There’s a trapeze artist, Marion (Solveig Dommartin) who fascinates Damiel, eventually falling in love with her. They even run into Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds performing a couple times. Then there’s an American movie star (Peter Falk) making a movie in Berlin. Peter Falk’s casting is ingenious, playing himself, with numerous references to his Lt. Columbo character, another famous character known for questioning thinks he sees around him, he brings an insouciant sense that combats the film’s weightier themes, making the movie more spiritual and life-affirming oddly enough.
Suggesting that angels are envious to humans is as profound as anything written in any religious text. And, eh, just one more thing, there's multiple scenes in the movie that are just breathtaking and truly unbelievable, for instance, the one shot where both angels walk through The Berlin Wall from one side of Berlin to the other, or the best use ever, of a film transitioning from black and white to color ever done, yes, better than "The Wizard of Oz", (And btw, Berlin is gorgeous in color, never moreso in this movie) but one of them is when Peter Falk, suddenly seems to be talking to Damiel. "I can't see ya, but I know you're here." He reveals himself, to be a "fallen angel" later, having been in their position, and chose instead to become human and has never regretted it. I guess, to some extent, you could describe this as being a parable to films themselves, an actor talking to us, as he's performing. It's not technically a fourth wall break, but it feels as startling as one. I don't think the parable to film is the intent, the movie isn't about wasting away, it's about experience and life and all that it entails, and how lucky we are to be experiencing it. That's what makes the rest of Falk's monologue to Damiel so powerful.
"...I feel it. You've been hanging around since I got here. I wish I could see your face. Just look into your eyes and tell ya how good it is to be here. Just to touch something. See, that's cool That feel good. Here, the smoke, have coffee, and if you do it together, it's fantastic...."