Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | August 16, 2010

“Wings of Desire”

“Wings of Desire” is a 1987 film that focuses on the angelic life. The two main characters are angels that visit and share experiences of those throughout the city of Berlin. It’s in B&W and subtitles with a good mix of English here and there. But make no mistake, you read this film. And yet oddly, that’s not inconsistent with the visual experience of the film. If you care to watch the “extras”, you’ll learn the lighting effects were produced by the masters who did the original French version of “Beauty and the Beast” from the 1950’s with such stunning visuals… there’s no mistaking the inspiration of the Disney (cartoon) remake.

I liked the film. It’s not troubling itself with being theologically correct, or even overtly Christian. And that’s okay… in fact, probably better for what might have happened given modernity’s stock perspectives. And yet it is a refreshing throwback in ways to a time when belief was stronger. And those working on the set all focused on what they’d known of angels from their youth, all in a positive light. Their efforts are sincere, and they maintain a discrete and film-concentric separation between “real” life (color) and angelic life (B&W) that supports the art.

The story is gentle, and the angels themselves are as well… almost as if their role were simply to serve as veins of positive spiritual support. Given the Orthodox theme of the angelic life where humans endeavor to touch the face of god through imitating it’s course, it is refreshing to think as this film does… how angels used to sensing and supporting people with their presence come to long for the temporal, the fragile, and brittle parts of human life. Yes, this goes against teaching… it is in fact a film, and focused on entertaining people. And yes, an opportunity is missed, but nevertheless, it does not necessarily take away from the story it does tell… it’s just a different story. And a very gentle film… and even manages this through the rubble of the second world war, the scars of nazis and The Wall, and it’s sense of life as tragedy. You could perhaps use this sense as the framework for re-injecting a more religious sense into the story, but I won’t. And it’s not that it’s not there, but that if it is, like most of Hollywood’s own productions, this film remains aloof from embedding itself in tradition. Instead, it focuses on how the sensitivity of the angels to their charges leaves at least one with a longing for the experience of human life where the pains of existence are sketched as if by an artist. We’re talking ANGST.

You could in fact take this whole thing differently. You could in fact wonder at the almost beat generation and beatnik togs of the angels and simply start laughing. I mean I’d be kidding if I didn’t admit that at times you  all but want Mike Myers to jump into a scene and begin frugging in his leotard to the music, then suddenly stop to say, “Welcome to Dieter’s Dance Party! And now we sprocket!” There is indeed the danger of this film taking itself too seriously.

But if instead you hold the edge, even through some of the dreariness in spite of this urge, or because you wonder  that it  just might prove worth it, I think you will be well rewarded. I was not disappointed. Oh… it would have been nicer if it’d been dubbed and I’d been able to pick up some of the background chit chat that would go on for line after line but merit only a one word subtitle… but that’s the way of foreign films. And I don’t do too many of them. So if you haven’t seen it, and you can’t find a car chase, shoot-em up, or murder mystery… and live in fear of the vampire/zombie craze, you might enjoy a classic.


  1. That sounds like a nice change of pace from the raft of “angel” movies since the 90’s where all of them long for an immoral human life, are tattoo’d Mad Max-ish vigilantes and are at war with God.

    • Sure is a relief… especially from the “angels as hitmen” in “Dogma”. And I think the longing for love is consistent with the compassion shown throughout. There was a Cary Grant movie long ago where the Grant plays an angel who falls in love with the (anglican) bishop’s wife. A bit incredulous and purposely “naughty” for a 1950’s flick. This has nothing of that sort, and plays within the credibly consistent… missing only the “tradition” into which it would fit. But not entirely missing… as you could say it is consistent with the sense that God loves all peoples… faithful and unfaithful alike. I’m not sure it’s a post-religious angel so much as silent or ambiguous on the details. There is no mention of God… or who sends them, or their love of God. But that’s pretty consistent in most story lines on the topic, right? So no false hopes or expectations. But it seems to get so much else right.

  2. I’ve caught snippets of this movie on the art house type channels but I’ve never seen the whole thing. I really liked the look of it and someday I’ll need to sit down and watch it all.

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