Wim Wenders' WINGS OF DESIRE
Movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
This is a personal movie. By that I mean that how you react to it is very much dependent on your personality and your outlook on life, plus your willingness to let a story unfold that has less linear direction and story than more declarative, plot-driven films.
It’s about a guardian angel who falls in love with a young trapeze artist and decides he wants to become human, for a variety of reasons. It takes place in the divided Berlin of 1986-7, is shot partly in (brilliant) black and white and color, and includes in its cast Peter Falk, playing himself.
In this movie guardian angels walk among us, invisible (except to children), occasionally offering silent hope and encouragement. As they walk they hear snatches of the thoughts and feelings of people near them — parents musing about their children, retirees worried about their pensions, injured accident victims contemplating fragments and memories of life, and actors worrying about the parts they undertake without really understanding the role.
It all sounds very esoteric, and it is. But as I watched these angels observe all that is about them, and listen to their musings about the geologic time they’ve lived and the potential human pleasures of coffee and cigarettes, I realized the movie is really about being human. What we see and hear through these angels is not politics and history — being in Berlin there’s plenty of that around — but how individual people feel, react, and think, sometimes in snippets, sometimes in extended musings as whenthe trapeze artist thinks about her life after the circus she is part of has shut down.
It is a lovely film, sad and bittersweet in parts, strange in others, but never downright edgy, rude, violent, or nasty. These angels care about their charges and you can tell this from how they reassuringly place a hand on the shoulder of a troubled soul, or how they smile at a child who does see them, unlike the adults.
The image quality on this DVD is stunning for its clarity and tone. The music and voices we hear as the angels walk through a huge Berlin library are simultaneously ethereal and rooted in the present. The DVD commentary (by the director and occasionally by Peter Falk) is moderately interesting. But some of the extras on this DVD are more interesting than the commentary. One is a brief contemporary documentary about the movie, with current interviews with some of the participants. That’s fun. Also really interesting is an “interactive map” that lets you learn details of the various Berlin locations where the movie was filmed, interspersed with segments from the movie. What’s amazing there is how much Berlin has changed just in the brief period since when the movie was produced.
A real find on the DVD, though, is a series of deleted scenes. Some are just basic scenes that you wouldn’t miss too much. But there is an extended scheme at the very end that shows you how the movie might have ended had the director wanted to do something very different. I won’t reveal what is there except to say that it involves pies.
Review copyright (c) 2010 by Dennis D. McDonald