Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Wings Of Desire: Special Edition (DVD)

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

In a DVD featurette for the angels-on-our-shoulders meditation Wings Of Desire, director Wim Wenders explains that his film was never meant to be about angels, per se. To follow up the 1984 English-language arthouse hit Paris, Texas, Wenders planned a return to his German homeland to make a movie about Berlin as a place and a concept. (Wings Of Desire's German title literally translates as The Sky Above Berlin.) Wenders concocted an esoteric framework of disconnected interior monologues, and to justify it, he dreamed up a couple of guardian angels (played by Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander) who watch over the city and hear the thoughts of its citizens. For a time, the angel conceit merely gives Wings Of Desire the freedom to indulge stylized, fragmentary portraits of Berlin while contemplating the city's history via voiceover memories, stock footage, and a subplot that involves the making of a movie about Nazis starring Peter Falk. But Wenders and co-screenwriter Peter Handke slowly drift into a plot, deriving from Ganz and Sander's daily musings about what it would be like to be human. When Ganz becomes smitten with lissome trapeze artist Solveig Dommartin, he finds a concrete reason to abandon immortality for a world where he can taste, smell, feel, and love. Wings Of Desire's story matters less in the particulars than in the general romantic sweep it provides to a scenario that's mostly preoccupied with melancholy philosophizing and the magically mundane. Henri Alekan, cinematographer on Jean Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast, came out of retirement to give Wenders' film a luminescence that recalls early silents and German expressionism, with otherworldly shifts from fine-grain black-and-white to deep color–the former representing the angels' vision of the world, and the latter the mortals'. But though Wings Of Desire has a classic look, its mood and style is New Wave in every sense of the term. The synthesis of deep thought, leisurely pacing, and stunning visuals is in the spirit of work by the young European filmmakers of the '60s and '70s, while the pervasive mood of postpunk ennui carries through to a climactic live performance by Nick Cave. Wings Of Desire enchanted audiences 15 years ago with an unselfconscious brandishing of arty pretension and shameless sentimentality, and odds are good that the film would still strike a chord with just about anyone's inner undergraduate. But what's most impressive, especially given Wenders' inability to make a succeeding movie as nimble and inspired, is how Wings Of Desire's ideas flow and cohere organically. The angels may have been an afterthought, but the way they provide a clear path into the realm of abstraction remains undeniably divine.