Saturday, 13 November 2010

Wings of Desire (1987)

Angel Damiel (Bruno Ganz) flies about Berlin, dropping in on various lives but never being able to interfere. He eventually falls, both down to earth and for a human.

The film begins with a poem about children/childhood. We return to this poem throughout the film, and alongside images of children, you start to get a sense of Damiel's view of humanity as children, we don't get the eternity he has had to really learn or experience anything. But, he also sees into people's thoughts and feelings and realises how many of us are always thinking about mortality and the meaning of life.

Beginning in warm black and white, we begin with Damiel visiting many different people, in their homes, on the street, in cars. He discusses what he's been doing with a fellow angel and proclaims that he wants to take part in life, be seen, be part of things on earth.

They both visit a library, seeing lots of other angels overlooking those studying. A nice parallel - whilst the angel wishes to take part in mortality, the humans he's watching struggle with theirs.

We then see him visit a circus, where he sees a female trapeze artist, Marion, dressed as an angel and he falls in love with her. There are some lovely moments here with Marion saying to her colleagues "these wings bother me", well, exactly. As we watch her fly about on her trapeze, the film is suddenly in bright colour for several seconds. Is this our angel beginning to see the possiblities of a life in love and as a mortal?

We follow them both back to her trailer, where, as she thinks about her life and future, Damiel takes in her belongings, her past, photographs. She is longing for love and so is he, but he does not exist in her realm.

To me, Wings of Desire is an essay on humanity, our struggle with only being here for a short time. Between birth and death we experience so much, but in the bigger scheme of things it is but a sigh. How do we deal with mortality? We regret all the things not done, not yet experienced but also look back and enjoy what we have done. Is the regret of things not done a more powerful sensation than of the pleasure from things done? Some look to the bigger narratives, war and peace, history, but the majority look to their own private lives.

Set in Berlin (a city destroyed by war and divided by ideology) in 1987, this is also a work about a divided society, a divided self. We and Damiel follow citizens wandering the city, cut off by the Wall from memories of things past, reminiscing about cafes and buildings that have since been destroyed. Are all of us part human and part immortal angel? We oversee our own lives, think about our own histories and yet cannot escape the onward march toward death.

So, this is also a film about borders, passing between different states of existence, obsession with the past and how it continues to affect the present.

Peter Falk is ace as himself, shooting a film about the Second World War, again recreating history, dragging another world into the present.

Wenders and his photographers (including assistant director Claire Denis) use lots of crane shots, the descending camera constantly coming to down to 'our' level, the human level from where sometimes our heads are in the clouds.

There's a gorgeous moment as Damiel sits with the audience of children at the circus, the child sitting next to him turns and speaks to him. He then turns to look at us directly in the camera and smiles knowingly. Was this perhaps destined to be an outtake but then kept in as an indication of the importance of children?

Damiel finally breaks through to both life and colour film. We see him experience many things for the first time - tasting his own blood, being cold, learning the names of different colours, drinking coffee. This reminded me of my own learning, thinking back to when I learnt many of these things, as a child of course. He then goes after the trapeze artist but finds the circus gone. They eventually find each other and through experiencing love with Marion, Damiel discovers what it is to be human and even though he has brought himself down to human level (and only for a limited time), he finds that transcendence is also possible through love.

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