Sunday 23 May 2021

On DVD - Janice Tong takes a fresh look at WINGS OF DESIRE/DER HIMMEL ÜBER BERLIN (Wim Wenders, West Germany, 1987)

From one library to the next, where the skies over Berlin are filled with angels. The library scenes in this film (pictured above) are my favourite.

I have not seen Wings of Desire since its theatrical release in Sydney all those years ago. However, several months back, I had a chance viewing of a small excerpt on Arte’s Blow Up Channel, (which incidentally has the most incredible collection of curated short videos, viewing cinema in a collective sense, sometimes it’s Libraries in cinema, or Bach in cinema, sometimes it is Truffaut in 9 minutes, or exploring a certain director or actor through their films, Luc Lagier and his team are cinephiles to its fullest sense) and promptly ordered a copy of the DVD online.
The film seemed to have matured since my last viewing of it, and I am glad that I have had the second chance to gain a deeper connection with this film - now a more sombre perspective has superseded the feeling of an arthouse device from the late eighties. I think it is I who has matured, and have become more in tune with what was a finely nuanced film that explored the ideas of temporality and being-in-the-world, Heidegger’s notion of Dasein. 

Thinking about the film now, it conjured up the famous painting by Hans Holbein, "The Ambassadors (1533, above))", where the larger than life anamorphic skull in the foreground is a constant reminder of where we are all headed. The riches of this world that adorn our lives, like Wenders’ rendering of our glorious existence in colour, is but for a short time. Choose what you do in life with love, to do that would be respecting the limits of your own existence.
In the film, angels are all around us, they bear witness to our existences, and ‘tune-in’ to our thoughts, guide us where they are able, but they let us live our lives, mostly, even if we succumb to suicide. As the voices come in and out of the viewer’s reach, we too, become like the angels, listening in to the private thoughts of the many around us. It soon becomes clear that the worries of a child are of no less importance or gravity than that of a businessman or a parent. 

Bruno Ganz as Damiel, an angel bearing
witness to our troubles and triumphs from above

The thoughts of a Holocaust survivor reminded me of a FB post I saw back in 2015, from an ex-serviceman who was worried that there would be no one around soon to guide the next generation to wear their poppies correctly on Remembrance day. (I’ve put their post in full below.) It seems that most thoughts that weigh on people can be lightened, by the touch on the shoulder, perhaps this touch is not only a gift from angels, but can also be from our fellow man.
Bruno Ganz was the quiet and calm angel, Damiel, (in fact, all the angels seem calm and patient), who sought the love of a woman - a trapeze artist who donned imitation wings and flew under a starless grey sky - the circus tent was the canopy of her existence. Damiel watched her practicing, attuned to her innermost fears, that of falling, with no safety net to catch her. But it was Damiel who ‘falls’, literally, into the twilight of mortality, he gave up being an angel to seek the comforts of the human - which seemed to be a small price to pay, given the scope of human emotions and sensations. To be in the world, and of the world, rather than beyond the existence of the world (thereby, beyond existence) is something that must be learnt. 

Solveig Dommartin as the beautiful trapeze artist,
her flight and wings adorn the circus and spectators alike

It’s exactly what Peter Falk (another ‘fallen’ angel) says, just to be able to rub your hands together when it’s really cold, or to smoke a cigarette; the sensations of falling in love must have been bursting Damiel’s heart. These small pleasures should not be taken for granted.
Wings of Desire should be watched again if you haven’t seen it since it’s theatrical release. It is worthwhile just to see Ganz as the ponytail-wearing black-clad angel and to see Falk as how his on-screen presence (at least to me) is remembered - in his crumbled worn-in raincoat, with hair that’s not been cut or combed for at least a year - he was truly his own Columbo parody.

Peter Falk (Columbo-like)

The post re: “How to wear your poppy on Remembrance Day”:
A lovely military man selling poppies stopped me today and asked if he could reposition mine - while doing so he told me that women should wear their poppy on their right side; the red represents the blood of all those who gave their lives, the black represents the mourning of those who didn't have their loved ones return home, and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much. The leaf should be positioned at 11 o'clock to represent the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time that World War One formally ended. He was worried that younger generations wouldn't understand this and his generation wouldn't be around for much longer to teach them.

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