“Sometimes I’m fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I’d like to feel a weight to tie me to Earth.”Damiel
A few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall — at a time when it still seemed impossible — Wim Wenders captured the soul of the city in this poetic rumination as a pair of angels watch the populace and listen to their innermost thoughts. Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander are able wordlessly to communicate their love for humans through a simple gaze, or a comforting hand on a shoulder, sensed but unseen. The first hour drifts through the city as we experience countless brief slivers of lives — this, combined with the constant camera movement, can become exhausting, and we are thankful when the angels linger in a library or a circus. Yet it is the amalgamation of those lives in Wings of Desire that constructs a city, and that explores the range of humanity from childlike innocence to aging despair. Wenders uses starkly beautiful black and white imagery to represent the angels’ perspective, and colour to represent that of humans. The recent 4K restoration is the first time audiences can experience Henri Alekan’s black and white cinematography as intended, rather than the tinted adulteration that results from producing monochrome imagery on colour film (a necessary concession to distributing a film that was partially in colour). Producing swooping camera movements before the age of the steadicam required considerable inventiveness and makeshift rigs, and the film makers succeed in creating a floating sensation that we now take for granted with drone footage. The film’s second half becomes more plot-focused as Damiel falls in love and decides to live as a human (Hollywood’s pseudo-remake City of Angels focuses solely on this plot). As Damiel searches the city, cheerfully accepting the aches of incarnation, the Berlin of Wings of Desire is as vital a character as any other. Yet, from just a few years after its release, it feels ever more ephemeral — a celluloid memory of a place that no longer exists.