Review: Der Himmel Über Berlin (Wings Of Desire, 1987)

Any movie with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds is okay by me!

Screenplay By: Richard Reitinger
Directed By: Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders has made a most interesting motion picture in Der Himmel Über Berlin. If I had not been paying attention to the film I could easily see most of the ideas and proposals contained within flying right over my head. Der Himmel Über Berlin is a film for the astute viewer, made for those who are willing to look for allegories and intertextual connections. Of course that could just be my take and my take alone, and it wouldn’t surprise me if lots of other people left Der Himmel Über Berlin feeling that it laid itself bare for everyone to see on a surface level.

After this, my initial viewing of Der Himmel Über Berlin I came to the conclusion that the film is a tome on the human existence. The angels we see in Der Himmel Über Berlin are allegorical representations of the path Herr Wenders sees humanity on. They are aloof, detached from those that they observe. They are, in every sense of the word, watchers. When they report to one another of what they have seen or heard in their observations they do so from a cold and mechanical perspective. Color flashes into Der Himmel Über Berlin at various intervals, but it only maintains a firm grip on the film once Bruno Ganz’s angel has become human. Once he is able to feel and once he is able to realize the pleasures that his detachment was keeping him from Damiel’s world is filled with color.

There are snippets of Europe’s past tossed into the allegorical mix of Der Himmel Über Berlin. I found the flashbacks of war to represent the best and the worst of humanity. Herr Wenders posits that emotion is humanities greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Emotion allows us to feel, to connect with one another and to live the great lives that we do. At the same time emotion has led us close to ruin and it may lead us to ruin in the future. Our emotional desire has had dire consequences in the past and it will again in the future.

The allegorical content of Der Himmel Über Berlin is helped out by the wonderfully sweeping direction of Herr Wenders. He begins the film up close with a shot of a man’s hand writing, but he quickly expands to a scrolling helicopter shot that conveys the immensity of Berlin. Der Himmel Über Berlin has a large scope to it, and that’s not just because of the presence of angels and the reflections on humanity. The breadth of the films scope is maintained because of the intimate yet larger than life movements of Herr Wenders’ camera.

In addition to the camera work I was enraptured y the gorgeous black and white cinematography. Der Himmel Über Berlin isn’t simply a film in black and white, it is a black and white film where all the color has been drained out. In most black and white films the color doesn’t show up on screen but it is still an element of the film in that one is able to imagine where there should be color. That’s not so in Der Himmel Über Berlin, when the film is in black and white it’s because there is no color to be found, literally the emotion of humanity and all its color has been drained off of the screen.

Der Himmel Über Berlin is only my second Wim Wenders film, but it’s my second great Wim Wenders film. Like a great work of poetry, or a wonderfully written sonnet, Der Himmel Über Berlin plays out mesmerizingly. As Marion moved and contorted her body my eyes were glued to the screen. Such humanity, such emotion, and just a taste of that humanity was enough to cause Damiel’s life to completely change. I was moved by Der Himmel Über Berlin, and I was left with a deeper appreciation for the uniqueness of humanity.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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6 responses to “Review: Der Himmel Über Berlin (Wings Of Desire, 1987)

  1. Lovely write-up for a beautiful film.

  2. Thank you kindly :)

  3. It is one of those films that requires paying attention and thinking a lot about after the fact. It took me five viewings before I felt I had a decent grip on the film and actually admired it enough to say I loved it.

  4. There’s definitely a lot to take in, and of course there are a lot of different ways to interpret what one is taking in during this film.

  5. As more years go by one of the things this film may lose is audiences that understand just how important the wall between East and West Berlin was at the time. When he “falls to Earth” on the wrong side of the wall, it must have been incredibly tense for the audiences at the time.

  6. Indeed, it’s very similar to Cold War films in that regard. There are just certain facets of history that future audiences may know about, but not really know the tone of, if that makes sense.

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