I went through a period in my life when all I watched were foreign films. Maybe it was because it was the first time I moved away from the city I grew up in and I felt so foreign myself in the new place. I certainly don't feel that way now. But it was during this period I saw some of the most memorable films, films that were like poems, films of striking image and mood. And among these Wings of Desire directed by Wim Wenders is the zenith.
Wings of Desire is visually stunning. Angels high up, overlooking Berlin. The complex architecture of a library filled with people and the angels. The city of Berlin is as much a character as the two angels, Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander for whom the landscape of human life is chiaroscuro. The angels do not see color or smell or taste. They witness by listening and watching, so we in the audience are kind of voyeur angels too.
Solveig Dommartin and Peter Falk round out this profound cast. The performances are superb. Dommartin is spellbinding and Falk plays himself in that charming Columbo way. Without giving anything away, I'll tell you that Bruno Ganz's facial expressions are a marvel. There's also an elderly man, played by Curt Bois, who longs for peace and lends oral poetry to this visual poem of a film.
The music of Nick Cave enhances the hypnotic mood. And poets can't help but draw associations with Rilke from the overall feeling of the film.
In many ways, this angel movie is nothing like It's A Wonderful Life. It isn't a whimsical comedy romance. It's not so much a story of a set of characters as it is about the human story. But there is humor here and romance and plenty of human pathos. All in the back-drop of a post-Nazi Germany that can't help but be shadows in the corners of every frame. This is an exquisite, complex, painful, beautiful film.
I feel I need mention City of Angels, an American "remake"inspired by Wings of Desire. If you have seen City of Angels don't think there is no need to see "the original." These are two very different movies. There is a nice library shot in this one too. But the movie lacks history and scope. Though I have warm places in my heart for Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage who star, Dennis Franz is the highlight. City of Angels is a watchable movie for sure, but not magnificent.
Wings of Desire will always remain one of my all-time favorites.