Sight & Sound Top 250 Films
May 17, 2023 - 250-241 (Part Three)
# 247 - “Wings of Desire” (1987) Wim Winders
It took me thirty six years to get around to watching this film: I had a feeling it was going to have a profound effect on me so I chose to save it for later in case I needed a dose of redemptive art as balm to my frayed nerves. And I’m so glad I did.
When a film works on every level; when all the magical elements of creativity and inspiration, casting, location, music, image and sound meld together just right, it can be like a religious experience. The psyche expands to take in the shape of the vision and we can feel something akin to the act of falling in love.
Wim Wenders’ elegaic and hopeful poem to the city of Berlin and the wonders of romance is like getting a massage by invisible saints.
In the world of the movie, winged angels watch over the populace, listening to thoughts and occasionally laying a calming hand on a troubled shoulder.
As played by Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander, the two main angels are marvels of understanding, empathy and non-invasiveness. They are here to experience and document, not to interfere.
And yet the mixture of joy and suffering they witness sometimes breaks through their serene countenance and elicits a genuine display of grief, shock or — in the case of Ganz’s angel Damiel — the stirrings of love.
The movie is structured as a series of vignettes; non-physical encounters between the angels and the sad, wise, confused, exhausted and heartbroken Berliners.
One vignette in particular, involving a trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin), starts Damiel on a path of discovery that takes up the second part of the film.
Peter Falk shows up as Peter Falk making a movie about Nazis and he’s never been more endearing.
And Crime and The City Solution — with the deliciously slender Simon Bonney wearing a crop top — and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform mesmerizing numbers in a packed club, the crowd of 80’s post-punk, No-wave providing a definitive snap shot of the era.
The Berlin wall plays a central role in the film, always in sight. One side covered with ebullient graffiti, the other painted an austere perfunctory white.
And at the stunning Haus Potsdamer Straße library — where readers and angels mix together — the incredible sound design, filled with overlapping mysterious whispers and echoey reverberations of distant music, becomes a gently undulating cacophony, an ocean of disparate voices. It’s a masterpiece of sonic invention.
The thrill of making my way through these 250 films is part education — I want to be able to speak with as much fluency as possible the language of cinema — but primarily, I’m hoping that among the greatness there will be genuine transcendence.
While watching “Wings of Desire” I felt a fundamental shift in my consciousness: Wenders has successfully put forth a new idea, a way of looking at the world that momentarily — but significantly — provides an answer in this age of anxiety.
If you’ve seen it, maybe it’s time for another look.
And if you haven’t, seek it out. Give your nerves a gentle rubdown, you won’t regret it.
STREAMING ON HBO AND CRITERION CHANNEL