A Gentle Reminder: Wings of Desire (The Sky Over Berlin)

Wings of Desire (The Sky over Berlin) [Wim Wenders, 1987]

The plot is quite straightforward: two angels in Berlin help people to cope with their lives. And when one of them then encounters a female trapeze artist, he discretely follows her around and then decides he could give up his angelity and become a human.

A funny thing happened with the film’s title. Originally called The Sky over Berlin, it was translated in English as Wings of Desire; both names happened to fit perfectly, reflecting the film’s different sides. The film itself is not so homogeneous. In The Sky over Berlin, we follow the angels who follow people. We learn what difficult and important work they do and, naturally, they are absolutely overwhelmed with thoughts and worries of various levels of magnitude: ‘Where does the space end and the time start?’; ‘Why cannot peace inspire a storyteller? Why is it so elusive and difficult to describe?’; ‘My pension is so small, how to survive?’. Someone may get desperate, and then a light pat on the shoulder from an angel make things look less grim. Someone is beyond help and simply jumps into a void. Thus the angels are busy and should find those in need of help in a swarm of inner voices around.

People’s voices are dreamy and detached; their inner monologues are sometimes beyond comprehension. In fact, the whole film is dreamy, detached and somewhat blurry – don’t expect any profound realism from it. What you can expect is some hints regarding human history in general and German history specifically, as well as obscure monologues about life and existence. Through the old wartime footages and scenes featuring the Berlin wall, the author takes us to a journey through time, bringing the way it used to be in the 80s to the present, and showing how people’s minds were affected. One of the characters observes: ‘In Germany there are as many states as people. There are barriers and boundaries everywhere’.

Then Peter Falk appears. Initially he seems to be more alive than the locals – while Berliners think about philosophical matters, his thoughts are about spaghetti. He’s an alien but he’s quick to adapt, and soon becomes equally high-minded. No one can escape from this high-mindedness in that dreamy Berlin full of angels.

And then there is Wings of Desire, where ‘desire’ is the key word. What we have is an endless array of little pleasures which only an angel can fully appreciate, since he is deprived of them in his angelic state; for example, the ability to take our shoes off and to move our liberated toes. But the most important desire is, of course, the woman. And she appears both innocent and infernal, with her red dress and red lipstick, in the stygian cacophony of Nick Cave’s tunes, inadvertently luring the angel to fall – straight into human life.

Overall, it’s hard to say what this film is about. Could be about anything. Seems like it. You decide.


Editor’s Note: The next instalment of ‘A Gentle Reminder’ will be on Thursday 18th December. Don’t miss it!


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