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Wings of Desire

Otto Sander and Brunco Ganz as angels watching over Berlin. Wim Wender‘s poetic film is also a historic document of the city before the fall of the Wall.

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Apparently there are still people who haven‘t seen 1987‘s WINGS OF DESIRE, and there‘s really no excuse for it. There were the festivals and prizes during that time: Wim Wenders won the Best Director award at Cannes and also received the European Film Prize and the Bavarian Film Prize. International nominations and awards were followed by the BAFTAs, the Césars, and different film critic organizations in the US. More worldwide festivals came, the film was sold in numerous countries, was a success in German cinemas, did well on the home cinema market, was shown on TV, and is still programmed in the capital‘s open air summer cinemas 30 years later.

The film‘s history goes further and further and culminates in 2018 with a new nationwide release, its third. WINGS OF DESIRE was released in 2007 for its 20th anniversary in digitalised form, the Berlinale showed it in the highest resolution this February: in 4K, it doesn‘t get better than that and just so it‘s clear: it looks great and gives a new gloss and the best-possible (renewed) rescue in the digital era. Wim Wenders‘ own fund is very involved in preserving his works (more 4K restorations will follow), and Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg, the FFA, and the French CNC gave money too, since it‘s a French-German coproduction. The Criterion Collection was also involved in the digital restoration for the BluRay.


The discovery or rediscovery of “WINGS“ is worthy for the opening and end credits alone: there‘s French cinematographer Agnès Godard who is credited as “assistant camera“ here before she began working with Claire Denis who was an assistant director in the film. Famous Berlin photographer and now angel Erika Radau is listed here as well as Blixa Bargeld and it‘s filled with other dead and living legends: leading roles Otto Sander and Bruno Ganz, supporting role Peter Falk. The 85 year old Jewish acting veteran Curt Bois (CASABLANCA) gives a dazzling performance as the old professor, and none other than cinematographer Henri Alekan who was nominated for an Oscar for 1953‘s ROMAN HOLIDAY captured divided Berlin with a beauty that could give you goosebumps.

God, what West Berlin must have been like back then, the Berlin that can be seen in those images. The way Bruno Ganz strolls around in the mittle of empty Adelbertstraße, in tourist-free Oranienstraße. Snack stalls everywhere instead of chic cafes. The unsold wasteland of Potsdamer Platz knew nothing of the architectural rape that would occur after reunification. The way the camera, at a time without drones, captures train tracks and was attached to helicopters showing neglected, dirty backyards, the partly undeveloped Zoo station, the Siegessäule, the Gedächtniskirche. A city of lost souls – the word breath-taking definitely captures it. And that‘s due to the undeniable poetry of the production, the radically open narrative that can‘t be summarize into a plot which so many have done unfortunately. It‘s a rare meditative reflection on being human, life, an existential trip, and all this is done without explanations and kitsch on all levels. The bewitching scene with the angel in the library as he looks inside the heads of the students sitting on the balustrade, unnoticed and wordless, is worth a trip to the cinema alone.


In between there are images of a destroyed Berlin, then Curt Bois, who says “what is it about peace, that it can‘t make us happy permanently?“ And of course Handke‘s “Lied vom Kindsein“ which starts the film off and establishes a real Berliner brat as a leit motif in the film. The way Wenders deals with the idea of an angel: they appear in private cars, on buildings, and in apartments. They are shadows, ghosts, and not-always-successful saviors. They don‘t talk with others at all in the beginning and barely speak to each other. They only hear people‘s thoughts as streams of consciousness. Thankfully the film doesn‘t have a religous message. Sharp black and white images gradually become colorful and a carpet of sound with spherical noises enmeshed with choral singing. The goosebumps remain.


The last act surprises with a Nick Cave concert but also with the cementation of a clear story, which the film without color could have easily gone without. The dialogue stating that there is no greater story than the one between a man and a woman could‘ve been cut after the often undefined magic that came before it, and Solveig Dommartin‘s role as a beautiful object doesn‘t stand the test of time. It doesn‘t diminish the cinema experience and it is impressive and important – for German film heritage in general and Wim Wenders in particular - that the film can be seen this way today.

The next task for the funders and institutions would be to pay attention to the films that aren‘t even digitalized, that don‘t have 6 versions under their belt or 3 nationwide releases, and yes, films that were made by women. Helma-Sanders Brahms‘ DIE BERÜHRTE would lend itself well, Elif Mikesch‘s lost MACUMBA would definitely look great in 4K, and there‘s a lot to discover in Ula Stöckl‘s archive. There are many excuses for why many don‘t know their films, but there are also concrete reasons – namely their quasi non-existent availability.

Toby Ashraf

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Original title: Der Himmel über Berlin
BRD/Frankreich 1986, 127 min
Language: German
Genre: Drama
Director: Wim Wenders
Author: Wim Wenders, Peter Handke
DOP: Henri Alekan
Music: Jürgen Knieper, Laurent Petitgand
Distributor: STUDIOCANAL
Cast: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Solveig Dommartin
FSK: 6
Release: 12.04.2018

Website
IMDB

Screenings

Screenings

  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

ALLE ANGABEN OHNE GEWÄHR.
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