Saturday, July 16, 2011

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin / Les ailes du désir)

IMDB says... PG-13, 1987, 127 minutes
An angel tires of overseeing human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.

The 73rd Virgin says... Peter Falk died a while back. I can't say I ever paid any attention to "Columbo", although my wife says she watched it. Other than "Princess Bride" the only impact he made on me was in the unlikeliest movie I've ever considered great, "Wings of Desire". If I had to defend each of my top 10 favorites, I could do so effortlessly - except for this one. Seriously, it's about angels. I can't think of a single angel movie I've ever come close to liking. But words fail at describing the cumulative effect of scene after scene of languid, drifting, pearly, black and white camera work and hours of Berliners or Berliner angels droning about what it is like or must be like to be human. The clips below don't really do justice to the whole, but they do focus on Falk's skills (and provide some warning about just how German this movie is gonna get near the end).

It's not even Falk's movie really, but his warmth and humor mirror perfectly with Bruno Ganz's warm and wry angel Damiel. Here is a long scene without subtitles (about 20% of the movie is in English), where Falk sketches a portrait of an extra, while ruminating on the process.

And the scene below that closed the deal for me the first time I saw it in 1987 -  notice the casual elegance with which Falk drops his cigarette before he rubs his hands together. That's how a man smokes. This scene didn't make me want to smoke but it did make me think harder about finding good coffee.

Finally, human Damiel tries to sneak into Falk's picture and discovers that Falk came over from the angel side years ago. Apparently every fallen angel gets a suit of armor as their grub stake when they become humans, so they compare notes.

I must admit I agree with Jay Carr when he writes in "Foreign Affairs" (Mercury House, 1991.) "When the angel who turns in his wings and the lady on the flying trapeze finally meet, the moment almost gets away from them in a declaration of love that's marked by a startlingly teutonic earnestness." It is a strange scene even by German standards even though it includes the great line "at last it's becoming serious", which may appeal to women more than men, I'm afraid, but it does communicate a certain finality and relief.

And it runs fully five minutes like this with only two brief cuts - whew. But, in the next scene Damiel speaks for many of us when he says, "I learned astonishment that night". That's more like it.

So ends an almost indescribably romantic, somber, and occasionally funny movie. Below Falk and Wenders briefly describe how his voice overs were done almost as an afterthought.

Bruno Ganz continues to act into his 70s and he did an unmatched Hitler in "Downfall". Dommartin did many of her own less challenging stunts here, although I suspect the shadow shots are the trainer/double listed in the credits. Sadly, she keeled over rather suddenly of a heart attack in 2007 at 47. RIP all around.
Wim Wenders did a victory lap in 1993 with his sequel "Far Away So Close". It's not nearly as good, but it has its moments and is worth a review sometime.

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