“What is wrong with peace that its inspiration doesn’t endure… and that its story is hardly told?”
Wings of Desire is full of ordinary moments, a kind of divine ordinariness that even angels envy. Inspired by the real-life guardian statues found across Berlin, the angels in the film find much to admire about humanity, and the film follows one angel’s journey to shed his wings to experience the human condition firsthand.
With a hint of irony, the angels find their own existence meaningful, but a bit boring in comparison. The first forty or so minutes of the film is spent in meditative near-silence, as the audience follows two of them doing an eternal round of comforting the weary and protecting innocence. This whole section is filmed in a symbolic grey tinge, mirroring the angels’ austere existence. They are all knowing and pure of heart, gracing children in libraries and strangers in crisis with their comforting presence. Aphorisms pepper the dialogue, visually pairing contemplation about eternity with the minutiae of human experience. The details are left to the viewer’s imagination; life, for director Wim Wenders, is abstract and contemplative.
Wenders tersely weaves between aphorisms and irony for the whole film but manages to keep a certain symmetry to the tone. The exaggerated fakeness of key objects in one scene feels sublime and expressionist, and in another is used as a setup for prop humour. In one memorable setup a flashback to a Nazi rally (perhaps the angels see through time?) is revealed to be a movie within the movie, exploring the same themes, only with a different cast creating an additional degree of detatchment. Peter Falk makes an appearance playing himself playing Colombo, who turns out to have a far more significant role than his introduction would suggest; a bit like giving major screen time in your film and some of its plot backbone to Agent Gibbs. When the greyness gives out to a well earned payoff of colour you feel like an eternity has passed – only to realise it’s probably how the angels felt too.
Wenders’ sensibility skirts around similar takes on post-war Berlin which often emphasise the mechanical, dehumanising aspects of the city. While the film acknowledges these qualities, the overall effect is layered with moments of delight; the occasional visual metaphor and memory in a surreal is-it-or-isn’t-it way. What’s communicated is a sense of how it must feel to exist in the city, how much of living is done in one’s head and, most importantly how existential loneliness can be a life affirming condition.
– Tin Do