Wings of Desire: A Beautiful Film with Narrative Drawbacks (Criterion 4K/Blu-ray)
Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire" has always been considered one of the writer/director's most popular films (possibly second only to his beloved "Paris, Texas"). Praised for its remarkable cinematography and poetic nature, Wenders' meditative classic is the kind of film that's certainly not going to be to everyone's taste, but the art on display is undeniable. It's been about 15 years since I last saw the film, at which point I gave it praise for its great camera work and fascinating observational style, and now with Criterion recently giving it their prestigious 4K upgrade, once again there's no better time to go back and revisit it and see if this classic lives up to its reputation.
The film primarily follows two angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), in Berlin, who basically observe humanity and report things to each other that they find particularly interesting. Visible only to children and unable to interact, they listen to the thoughts of everyone around them while going about the city. This eventually brings Damiel to a local circus, where he observes a trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a lonely woman who has recently learned that the circus is being shut down. As a result of his observation, Damiel begins to fall in love with her, while giving serious thought to giving up his status as an angel to become a mortal and experience what it is to be human.
As you can see, this is not a particularly complex film from a narrative standpoint. In fact, the vast majority is, as mentioned, a methodical trek that follows these two angels around Berlin as they observe various people doing various things. While this is happening, the film dazzles with Henri Alekan's stunning camera work, which sort of becomes a character in itself, observing the events that the angelic duo are witness to, and floating about gracefully to capture it all. The poetic approach combined with the cinematography gives the film a very trance-like feeling, pulling the viewer into the disorienting discord of thoughts, and making for a rather beautiful experience.
That said, there remains the problem of the film being rather narratively light. After observing humanity for a while, one starts to get the urge for something a little more substantial to occur. Along the way, we are teased with the start of a roman between Damiel and Marion, but then it dismisses it for quite a while, only to quickly wrap it up in the end. Eventually, in about the last 30 minutes, we at last come to the portion where Damiel decides to become human, experiencing things he's never done before (coffee, a cigarette, getting injured, etc.). However, it ends up being a strangely fleeting part of the film, one that would have benefited from being further developed, instead of tacked on in the final act.
Switching back over to one of the film's major plusses is the appearance of the great Peter Falk as an actor who is shooting a film about Nazis in Berlin. Throughout the film, he is curiously the only adult who is able to feel the presence of the angels, leading up to an intriguing revelation during a fascinating confrontation. Falk's part in the film definitely could have used a little expansion, as it makes for some of its best parts, but what's here still provides some of its most memorable moments.
Overall, revisiting the film 15 years later, it comes across more as a mixed bag than it had before. It's certainly gorgeous to behold with its stellar camera work that beautifully captures Berlin in the late '80s, and the performances (particularly from Ganz and Falk) are wonderful, but it just has a few too many narrative issues holding it back to be able to fully recommend it. It's a fine work of art, though one that leaves you wishing for a little more substance, ultimately making this a film that's very easy to admire, but a little difficult to truly love.
"Wings of Desire" arrives on 4K (and Blu-ray) in a gorgeous restoration supervised and approved by director Wim Wenders. The image looks stunning throughout, highlighting the film's beautiful black & white (and brief color) cinematography. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is outstanding, giving you the multi-language dialogue and the score in excellent quality. Overall, as usual, Criterion has done a phenomenal job upgrading yet another classic.
Commentary with Director Wim Wenders and Star Peter Falk
The Angels Among Us (43 Minutes)
Cinema Cinemas (9 Minutes)
Deleted Scenes (32 Minutes) and Outtakes (7 Minutes)
Alekan '85 (10 Minutes)
Alekan La Lumiere (27 Minutes)
Remembrance (30 Minutes)
The 4K/Blu-ray edition comes with a fantastic collection of extras that include a fascinating commentary with Wenders & Falk, a hefty portion of deleted scenes & outtakes, and featurettes about cinematographer Henri Alekan. Definitely plenty here to satisfy any fan of the film.
Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire" is a beautifully made film, featuring stunning cinematography that skillfully captures late-'80s Berlin, as well as some intriguing performances, but a few narrative issues end up holding it back a little too much, ultimately making you wish that there was a little more substance to go along with the film's dazzling beauty.
Now available on Criterion 4K/Blu-ray.
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