Greetings again from the darkness. Angels have been frequently cast as characters in movies such as Heaven Can Wait, It’s a Wonderful Life, Angels in the Outfield and the American remake of this one … City of Angels with Nic Cage. Director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas 1984) has always taken a poetic approach with filmmaking, even with his documentaries such as Pina (2011). His slow, thought-provoking style is not to everyone’s liking, but he has real talent for inspiring us to question ourselves, question others, and question life.
Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are two long-term angels who drift through the streets and libraries of WWII Berlin observing and listening to the internal thoughts and mental meandering of citizens … the wishes, the hopes, the happiness, the tragic, the loneliness … all emotions experienced in a typical day. The angels try to ease pain by offering a soothing hand on the shoulder, but they can have no direct impact and aren’t always successful. Damiel finds himself drawn to a Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a circus trapeze artist whose line “Most of the time I’m too aware to be sad” could easily have been the words of the angels.
There is an over-lapping subplot with Peter Falk playing himself as an actor in a German film. His character provides an instant infusion of interest and mystique, which the story later resolves. As Damiel gets closer to making the no-going-back decision to become human and bond with Marion, we see more of the fleeting moments that make up our lives. The angels see all, but can do very little. It’s this existence that makes Damiel’s decision understandable.
Famed cinematographer Henri Alekam’s floating camera, mixed lighting and dramatic contrast of black & white (angels view) and color (human view), add to the meditative effects of the film. There is a healthy dose of philosophy, metaphysics and spiritual questioning that goes on, including the three specifics asked by the film: Why am I me and not you? Why and I here and not there? When did time begin and where does space end? If such thoughtfulness is inspiring to you, then this Wim Wenders (Cannes’ Best Director winner) and Peter Handke (German playwright) script should keep you drifting with your thoughts for quite some time.
***NOTE: if you are unfamiliar with Bruno Ganz, not only is this film recommended, but so is his chilling turn as Adolph Hitler in Downfall from 2004.
watch the trailer: