...engaging and discerning culture, as a way of life...

October 10, 2007

Wings of Desire - 7

This German film by Wim Wenders (director of one of my favorite films- Paris, Texas- and a couple U2 videos and Bono's film The Million Dollar Hotel), who spent many years in America before returning to honor his native Berlin with this film, uses the idea of angels to get at the deepest desires that human have. The angels in this film do God's work, but can never really experience reality. They see in black and white, they can't physically touch the world, and yet they are intimate with the deepest thoughts of the humans that surround them. Damiel (Bruno Ganz) longs to be in the world truly, to experience it. First he falls in love with a circus trapeze artists, and meets Peter Falk, who is an angel who became human. Damiel finally decides to become human too, and pursues really living and loving, rather than his previous mundane experience. The film uses angels as a way to express the inner thoughts of human beings, and helps the viewer glance at themselves, and to critically reflect on whether they are pursuing their true desires and loves, or settled for a mundane existence. The film also uses a few performances by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. City of Angels is based on this film, but turns the unique and interesting ideas into a overly-sentimental romantic film. Wing of Desires succeeds by revealing the mystery to being human.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting response. I wrote on this one last year, so I've cut n pasted my thoughts below:

Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (1987) is a film where the angel Damiel (Bruno Ganz) slowly muses on the nature of our world's humanity, afterlife, and his desire to shed all of his former life in order to glimpse a taste of genuine human love. Because this is essentially a fall from grace story that subverts expectations vis-a-vis its celebration of humanness rather than the transcendent, Wenders generates some fascinating ideas, but overall the ideas never become more than the sum of their parts.

The film is technically superb, but the philosophy that underpins the film is so strong that, once the angel sacrifices his place to be alongside humanity and specifically the female mortal Marion (Solveig Dommartin), the film somehow suffers for me. It's not exactly a loss of those philosophical ideas that denies the film a continued interest, but rather a juxtaposition between hard-edged realism (in terms of grimy living) once Damiel begins to live on earth and a more comical story focusing on Peter Falk (playing a version of himself). This contrast never quite reconciles itself for me, unfortunately.

Instead, those scenes which are most effective take place when Damiel is still an angel and in the library, where angels keep guard on their charges. Other powerful scenes are those where he tries to prevent a man desiring suicide from acting out on this impulse. These aspects are given filmic power with ease, and allow Wenders an ability to offer true commentary on society and religion that blends itself seemlessly with rambling poetics.

As such, it is the execution of Marion's speech at the end that, rather than seeming transcendent (like the closing speeches in Paris, Texas), instead never quite reaches those same heights. This is still a strong, strong film, and gorgeously shot throughout, but certainly not in the same league as Paris, Texas.