Wim Wenders is a director I have never heard of before now, but apparently he is well-regarded as he has three titles in the book. I have a feeling his other efforts will be similar in tone to this one. Wings of Desire is a contemplative film; it contemplates the people of Berlin through the eyes of two otherworldly beings, but does nothing with the information gleaned from these eavesdroppings. It is a beautiful experience, one that works very hard at not really being anything, but instead, just being. In this, the film expresses (I’m sure unintentionally) one of the core tenets of Buddhism; that of living in the present moment. This film, more than any other I’ve seen, captures this mindset perfectly, because watching the film is to watch these people as they are, in the present moment.
To start, I’m glad I did some research into what the film was about before I watched it, as otherwise I would’ve been lost by the first half hour or so and had no idea what was transpiring. So, to that end, I’ll explain: the film is about two angels who roam the streets of contemporary Berlin, listening in on the thoughts and desires of the human population they pass along the way. After a while, one of the angels begins to fall in love with one of the people he’s been watching, a trapeze artist named Marion, and through her he wishes he was human himself so he could feel all the emotions he cannot otherwise know, with her at his side. The film shares its visual aesthetic with Powell & Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, in that the view of heaven and the earth from the angel’s perspective is a sepia-toned black and white, only turning to color when we see the world through the eyes of a human. The film is very scatterbrained in the initial lead-up to the actual plot, as we follow along with the angels as they listen in on random Berliners, and thus may lose a few people not willing to sit through the lack of direction.
I wasn’t too sure there was really enough material here for a film of just over two hours. Even with a subplot involving actor Peter Falk that is only tenuously tied to the rest of the film, the whole thing felt protracted, and it was only when I realized the intention of the film did I accept this for what it was, and it was by the skin of my teeth that I did so. This was remade in Hollywood a decade later as City of Angels, and I’m sure that film has a much more grounded plot and ordinary narrative structure than this one, as most Hollywoodized adaptations tend to do. The film is beautifully made, and the parts with color are even more striking (especially the concluding sequence) because of the muted sepia the film is normally covered in, but the lack of plot will almost certainly nag at the back of more than a few heads, and as much as I understood the experience I can’t say that it is one that I can recommend to any but a small number of viewers, and it’s this that is keeping me from giving the film a higher score. It was only through seeing the film with a Buddhist mindset that I was able to get through it, and to practically have to put forth a concerted effort to get through a film does not a good recommendation make. Still, like I said, the film is very beautiful in more ways than one, so you may end up finding yourself a new favorite with this.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10