I may have mentioned here on my little blog how much I adore the city of Berlin. I may have also mentioned that I am a huge fan of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. How fortunate I was to stumble across Der Himmel Uber Berlin or, as released in Britain, Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders’ existential masterpiece, which combines my loves into a single film!
The premise is that countless angels have mingled unseen with the people of Berlin for thousands of years, listening to their deepest thoughts and darkest emotions. The film is shot in rich sepia toned black and white as a metaphor for the fact that these angels have spent so long observing that they are no longer able to experience the simplest joys of life.
We focus on two angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), portrayed as middle aged men in dark overcoats. They look down upon the city from Berlin’s ‘Golden Angel’ or Statue of Victoria on the Siegessaule. They embrace the lonely, the desperate, the bereft. Their raison d’etre is, as Cassiel says, to “assemble, testify, preserve”
The city of Berlin is the major star of the picture, with scenes depicting both the affluent Kurfurstendamm in West Berlin against the dereliction and poverty of areas such as Kreuzberg on the other side of the wall. Not to mention the scenes that take place in between as Damiel and Cassiel walk in a literal no man’s land.
The sense of loss and the presence of literal and metaphorical ghosts is never better played out than when Homer (Curt Bois), a World War 2 veteran, searches for the Potsdamer Platz, reduced from its former glory to a derelict wasteland. A heart breaking scene seemingly representative of the collective sense of emptiness and guilt experienced by a divided city struggling to find its identity whilst still wrestling the demons of its recent history.
In another scene we see Damiel attend a circus, where he is surprised that, unlike the adults, the children present can see him and talk to him. The circus when seen through the eyes of the children is in full colour.
The setting of the circus is where Damiel first encounters Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a beautiful but lonely trapeze artist who lives alone in a caravan and listens to Nick Cave. Damiel falls in love with Marion and begins to wonder what it would be like to substitute observing the lives of others for a life filled with personal experience.
Through the assistance of an already “fallen” angel played by Peter Falk and referred to only as “Der Filmstar”, and with some angelic assistance from his erstwhile partner Cassiel, Damiel makes his dreams come true.
The film culminates with Damiel and Marion meeting for the first time at a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds concert where they greet each other like long lost soul mates.
|Cassiel listens in to Nick|
This film is as close to perfect as any I’ve ever seen. Humourous and heartbreaking in equal measure. Beautifully shot, full of exquisitely poetic dialogue and a torrent of metaphors that blow the mind!
I would heartily recommend this film to anyone. Not necessarily an easy watch, but it rewards your emotional investment tenfold.