Wings of Desire (West Germany/France, 1987)

wingsofdesirer1artpic1Directed by: Wim Wenders. I have an imaginary list in my mind of films that any self-respecting “film fan” ought to have seen and be well versed in and have a strong opinion on. Setting aside all the debate about oughts and shoulds with respect to art, I felt just plain silly having never seen this, for the simple reason that it seemed like something I would like. I liked the little bit of Wim Wenders I’ve seen, I like the little bit of Bruno Gans I’ve seen, I’m really interested in Berlin at the moment—what’s not to like? Hell, it’s even got Peter Falk in it! Now that I’ve seen it, I’m pleasantly surprised. I was worried that it would turn out like Strangers in Paradise, one of those other black and white staples of “indie”, or “arthouse” or “alternative” cinema that I’m supposed to love but actually when I got to see it, I didn’t really pay attention and I didn’t really care. With this one, I was paying attention, and I cared. Crazy how that works. This film definitely gets away with a lot of stuff that, if I were in a different mood, would completely drive me nuts. It’s a bunch of angels floating around, being kind of creepy, hopping from one random person to the next, eavesdropping on their banal thoughts “I’m worried about my mother” etc, and soaring around Berlin, inter-cutting with a subplot about an old man who is apparently the eternal (yet aging) spirit of Homer, the bard of humanity. That was all a bunch of stuff that went over my head, and I didn’t really give a shit about. But, when that wasn’t going on, the core of it was super interesting: the core story about angels being discontent with their perfection, longing for human flaws, how Bruno Ganz falls for a circus acrobat, becomes human in order to meet her, etc. And I absolutely loved the way that the film handled the black and white to colour transitions—this, to me, was where the film goes from being a little whimsical Euro art film, a very specific, personal celebration of the filmmaker’s home city, to being a really transcendent, accessible, universal piece of film art. The interchange of black and white with colour film has been going on since The Wizard of Oz, but the way Wenders uses it here is really something. I was really drawn into the dreamlike black and white sequences, the soft lighting, the way that black and white makes the actors look like “film”, everything looks “filmy”, and the fact that Wenders used this quality to convey the way that the angels view the world is brilliant. This soft, dreamlike quality that we’ve been watching for the majority of the movie is what makes the rest of the film so jarring, when Bruno finally becomes human and wakes up with blood on his forehead, and his hair disheveled, walking down the frigid street in those godawful thrift store clothes—he looks human! We see the colour on his face, the flaws of his skin, everything. It’s a very strange disjunction, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the fact that this awkward, kind of creepy, insane homeless man is the same kindly, pony-tailed, serene angel we’ve been watching for over an hour. One of the reasons why I shy away from European cinema sometimes is that, when I have to write about my experience with those movies (like I’m doing now), I usually can’t do it without resorting to some very ethereal, farfetched, pre-linguistic, totem-imagery, new-age nonsense. The most important thing for me to impart to you about this movie is the way it made me feel, and when I try to take that feeling and put it into a kind of intellectual, academic, scientific form, it just doesn’t fit. So maybe the best thing for everyone is to just stop reading and go watch the darn thing and you’ll see what I mean.

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2 responses to “Wings of Desire (West Germany/France, 1987)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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