Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Das Himmel Uber Berlin

I don't understand why the German and English versions of the title of this film vary so much. The German title, Das Himmel uber Berlin translates to "the heaven" or "the sky over Berlin," which is a far cry from Wings of Desire, the English title. As I said, I don't see the reason for the discrepancy. I prefer the German title. The terrible American version of this film adapts its title from the German, as well. But if you haven't yet subjected yourself to that travesty, don't bother. See this film instead.

This is the most gorgeous film I have seen in a very long while. There is no better lens for the human condition than through the eyes of an immortal being. The angels spend their days in the enviable occupation of people-watching. Being angelic, they are privy to peoples' internal thoughts, and streams of consciousness. Luckily for us, the central humans in this plot have remarkably poetic minds, consistently spouting tightly perfected existential meditations. There are a few humans that appear multiple times, and their separate stories are different threads making up the fabric of the film. I love this image, where Homer, an aging poet (Curt Bois) sits amongst the replicas of heavenly bodies, laughing quietly to himself:

Another of these is Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a trapeze artist who has just lost her job, because the circus is going under. When we first see her, she is donning angel wings and swinging high above the ground. Damien comes to love Marion after quietly observing her. Like Homer, Marion seems to be prone to questioning the nature of things. Like the intelligently prophetic Homer, there is something serene and eternal about her, as if she really is an angel on earth, or at least conscious of her position in the universal scheme. She is similar to Damien (Bruno Ganz), the angel who voices discontent at his inability to experience the immediacy of mortal life.

The third human is actor Peter Falk, as himself. The angels observe him taking part in a film-shoot in the city. The angels, who, unseen follow their quarries, are sort of reminiscent of the viewers as unseen tag-a-longs and viewers of a hermetic filmed universe. This parallel is drawn by Wenders, not just by me. It is an apt choice that Peter Falk, an actor, should be a former angel, and therefore, cognizant of the invisible boundaries that separate one world from the next. "I can't see you, but I know you're there," he says, looking through an invisible Damien. Some of my favorite moments in the film take place during the shoot, as the camera pans up and down in an abandoned building. There is a visual divide that seems to create a heaven/earth dichotomy.

There is a gradual scission in Damien's world. As he begins to relinquish his immortality to embrace humanity, there are sudden moments where the film erupts in color. When he becomes human, the world remains in color. The viewers experience becomes disrupted, as well. First we will see the human perspective, then a sudden jump cut to the angel's. They are rarely taken from the same angle and are, thus jarring.

The Berlin wall is a central element in this film. The angels are often walking along it. When Damien becomes human, he identifies colors by using the graffiti on the wall as an example. Other moments of German history spring up in archival footage throughout the film. Using the omniscient immortality of the angels as a lens allows glimpses towards the past as well as the present. This film comments beautifully on the human condition. It does this mostly by poetic observation. It is very touching.

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