Wings of Desire. Essay
“For me, the film is like music or a landscape: It clears a space in my mind, and in that space I can consider questions”, says Roger Ebert , the American film critic, screenwriter and author about the great movie “Wings of Desire” directed by Wim Wenders. Ebert highly evaluated the artistic approach of the film highlighting that “[i]I creates a mood of sadness and isolation, of yearning, of the transience of earthly things. If the human being is the only animal that knows it lives in time, the movie is about that knowledge”.
Talking about “Wings of Desire”, we can add that this film also about the knowledge of how to live in the historical time, how to revive and keep the memory about history, and how to understand our present life and aspirations in the historical process, how to overcome the historical division lines. In today’s Europe it is one of the most vital questions.
Wim Wenders, the German filmmaker and playwright addresses these questions immediately in the double title of his movie made in German-French coproduction. The original title in German is “Der Himmel über Berlin” (see also in Russian: Небо над Берлином), but the French version is “Les ailes du désir” (see also the English version). The double title refers on the double spaces: Berlin is the real, historical place of the plot, and the wings take the audience to the sphere of angels, the space of fantasy. This double space signifies also the real historical time of the post-war Berlin and the imaginary time of the European culture, the culture of Christianity in its wide terms. The horizontal and vertical lines of these spaces and time cross each other in the picture of the ruined by war church in Berlin where the angel appears firstly.
The genre of the film is defined as drama, fantasy, and romance, but all these components transformed into a beautiful, organic visual unity. Тhat is why Wim Wenders was awarded as the Best Director for the “Wings of Desire” at Cannes Film Festival, 1987, and the European Film Award, 1988, and a lot of other prestigious awards. Wenders began his carrier as director in the German New Wave of the 1970s. He is recognized as the founder of the New German Cinema together with Fassbinder and Werner Herzog. One of the early films “Alice in the Cities” (1974), brought him high critical acclaim, and “Paris, Texas” (1984) gave a wide international acknowledgement, winning three awards at Cannes. Both these films focus on the problems of the modern individuals in the metropolitans as the most significant places of the contemporary history.
The film was released in 1987, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Built in 1961, the Wall divided East and West Berlin into two zones, connected only by a strictly controlled corridor. West Berlin consisted of the American, British and French sectors, established in 1945 by four-power Western Allies. The Berlin’s citizens (and people of the legally and politically divided Germany) had to reconsider their life and the past of their national history in this ruined place.
At the same time, it is the place of the grate German classic culture. Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry partially inspired the movie; Wenders claimed angels seemed to dwell in Rilke's poetry. The director also employed Peter Handke, who wrote much of the dialogue, the poetic narrations, and the film’s recurring poem “Song of Childhood”. The movie was made with a minimalist script. The plot of the film is very simple. There are two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, who appear in contemporary West Berlin. People can’t see or hear them, but Damiel and Cassiel have an ability to hear their thoughts and feel their feelings. They would like to help inhabitants, to support them. By touching people they give them force to live and not to give up. They can’t change events, but they are able to evoke hope.
The first part of the film is mostly about being, observing, and thinking. Damiel and Cassiel listen to thoughts of other people. People think about different things, their lives, future. We can understand how helpless, tender people are. During watching the film I thought that people are like children. And sometimes they just need someone’s hand, good words that will help to stand and survive. The main roles in the film were played by Bruno Ganz (angel Damiel), Otto Sanders (angel Cassiel). Both of them were old friends with Wenders, who had known each other for decades. Bruno Ganz has a good appearance for an angel. His face is very kind and open. Damiel senses a certain sympathy from one of the humans he watches.
There is a seemingly independent story-line with an American movie actor Peter Falk, playing himself. He is invited to Berlin for playing his own role Columbo in a film on a Holocaust history. The scenes of film shooting in the labyrinth of cellars under Berlin are to be in the sharp opposite to the Berlin sky – as of the hell and heaven. Or, as of the subconscious thoughts and unexplicated desires. Peter Falk is to help expressing the untold stories, remembering the past. Later it becomes clear that he is former angel who decided to become a human one day. That’s why he could feel Damiel. I liked the hero of Peter Falk in the film. And I think it was good idea to put his real person it the plot. It brings some humor. The children in the streets call Falk “Columbo”, and indeed Columbo, in his dirty raincoat, enters people’s lives and stands around and observes and eventually asks questions. And the angels, who wear long black topcoats, do the same things, although their questions are not easily heard.
Scenes change in the second part of the film when Damiel realizes that he wants to be a human. He wants to try the taste of food, to dirty his fingers with morning newspaper, just to feed the cat after work. He falls in love with trapeze artist, Marion. He is attracted by her way of thinking, doubts, desire of love and childish thoughts at the same time. Night after night he goes to the small circus where she performs. He is given a chance and he becomes a human. The film becomes colored to show his happiness and the begging of new life on earth. After turning into human he gets an opportunity to feel. Not to stand and observe, but to feel. To smoke, to drink coffee, to feel the rain on his face. All the things he dreamt about. In the end of the film he meets Marion and they fall in love with each other. In the last episode Marion makes some tricks and Damiel thinks about how love can unite man and woman, change everything. He says that now he knows more that all angels.
Solveig Dommartin in the role of trapeze artist Marion was Wenders’ actress girlfriend; although the circus part required extensive and risky acrobatics, she was able to learn the trapeze and rope moves in only eight weeks, and did all the work herself, without a net. I was impressed by the fact that Solveig Dommartin learnt the challenging circus acrobatics in only eight weeks, and performed the full role without using a stunt double.
As I mentioned the film is also meditation on Berlin’s past, present and future: the city that overcame his tragedy and built new houses on ruins. At the beginning of the film there is an episode with newsreel. It tells about tragedy of Germany and Berlin after World War II. You can feel like you are in Berlin and experience its spirit and atmosphere. While watching we think not only about them, but also about history of the word, of mistakes that were made by people.
As for me, I like this film very much. It impressed and surprised me. I liked the playing of actors, and mostly the feeling that I had. This film is about sadness and happiness at the same time, and about love. Love to other person that can change your whole world, love to people who can be very helpless. The film evokes the desire to discuss what’s happening in your life with somebody. And you begin to realize true values, like friendship, family, close people. I enjoyed the moment when Damiel became a human everything became colored. For me it symbolizes the moments when you are absolutely happy, and don’t need any gadgets, garments, money, just your beautiful life with all advantages and disadvantages. The film makes you think about your own life. You realize that you can overcome and solve all your problems and achieve goals if you only desire it. The film is inspiring that’s why I recommend it to all my friends.
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