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Movie Reviews

Wings Of Desire  

Wings of Desire is a mysterious and captivating film, intriguing you right from the first sounds coming from Bruno Ganz`s voice; a peculiar singsong phrasing which can only have its effect coming from the German tongue. This is a German film directed by Wim Wenders in around 1987, and stars Bruno Ganz and Peter Falk. Those who have seen the Hollywood remake, City of Angels, may be somewhat surprised at the lack of formula storyline in this original. Wings of Desire is not a romance, unlike the remake, but an discourse on what it means to be human. It is also a film immersed in mood, and style, and ideas, and devoid of a solid plot in the conventional sense.

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The basic outline of the story is probably already familiar from viewers of the remake. Two angels keep watch over the citizens of Berlin. They themselves, of course, cannot experience life itself, but are required to observe the activities and feelings of the people around them. For what reason I cannot be sure. Then again I don`t think these angels really know either. It`s a way of life for them, to put it mildly. They are commanded by God to act this way, so they don`t argue. Well, all but one..... the angel played by Ganz. He, right from the start, finds a fascination with the activities of the average human being. He wants to know what it`s like to laugh, to associate with others, etc.

The Ganz character, in his travels, encounters a woman (a trapese artist in this version) and he develops a facination with her. It`s hard to know whether it is really love or just the angel`s belief that she represents all that is provocative and exceptional among humans, and therefore proof that it is much better to become human. His belief is somewhat interesting becasue it doesn`t appear that she has a very happy life. The circus she performs for is closing down due to lack of funds. She feels lost, aimless; in a world where things just begin and end and do the same thing all over again. Life does not hold any pleasure for her. And yet, the angel falls in love with her misery. It`s as if in having misery you at least know you are alive. The angel, on the other hand, has nothing going for him, negative or otherwise. He wants some suffering and pain in his life, as much as he wants the happiness and joy.

As I`ve said, there really isn`t so much of a story as there is an expression of mood and ideas. Many of the ideas involve the relationship between humans and the spiritual world, especially the unusual communication between the angels and the people they encounter. The angels are of course able to read everybody`s thoughts, which are heard by us in a very faint whisper, much like the noises in my imagination would sound to me. As well, certain people are somehow knowledgable of the angels. These people are, to the best of my memory, small children and old people. I developed an undoubtedly unoriginal theroy on this: these two demographics are able to sense the angels because they are closer to the spiritual realm than all other humans. For young people, they have just recently entered the earthly realm, their senses not yet trained fully, and so still recognize the aspects of the spiritual which thier souls had previously exited. Old people, on the other hand, become aware again of the spiritual world as they creep ever closer to death, knowing that they will return to a similar state as that of the celestial presence before them.

The film is shot in both black-and-white and color, and is immensely crucial to the philosophical underpinnings of the film. The angels cannot experience earthly life in anyway, by any of their senses, and the perfect visual representation of their isolation is the draining of color from the screen. The imagery is stately, rigid, stylized, and of course totally devoid of any of the mundane color Ganz`s character so desperately wants to experience. So whenever you see that color, it becomes a real shock, a real flood upon the senses. You are tempted to feel exactly as Ganz feels, that it truly is such a fascinating world out there.

And finally, I must mention Peter Falk, who plays himself in this movie. You would probably wonder what Columbo is doing in an arty German film, but here he is. What`s the deal, you say. Well, it is a big deal, for as the film develops, we realize that Falk is a mysterious presence throughout the entire story. Sure, he`s also in Berlin filming a crime drama probably not unlike his old series, but he has another mission which is completely crucial to the plot. Without revealing what that is, I can say that even if this character had been a fictional creation, everything which occurs would still make sense. I think the use of Falk represents Wenders` fascination with American culture, which reveals itself throughout the movie, but he still uses "Detective Columbo" wisely. What transpires is, I feel, the most innovative use of a real person, playing him/herself, in a fictional production. There are a number of great scenes with him, which I wouldn`t dare reveal, except to say that I think you will be surprised at the revelation later on in the film.

In a way, as well, the presence of Falk helps underscore the universality of the story. While this is a German film, Falk is an American. And the trapeze artist is French, speaking her language in her interior monologues. This is a story about the nature of humanity in the most general sense. And who couldn`t appreciate the gift of life one has when one hears of an angel wishing he could someday have a drink of coffee, or feel the bitter cold on his hands and face. Sure, to us, having our morning coffee is an extremly minor event. But when you think about it, it must have taken a lot of work for whomever it was that created us to allow us to experience that event. And one barren of a particular sensory experience would think it very extraordinary indeed.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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