Why I love Wings of Desire:

The Criterion DVD version of this film is so good. It reminds you why it’s a gorgeous, beautiful film that stretches open your heart just a little bit more when you see it. The Brattle Theater in Cambridge tends to show it during Christmastime, which is where I first saw it in the theaters. Magical.

Here’s some of what I wrote on it for TribecaFilm.com. Check the link for the full piece.

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin), Wim Wenders’ lyrical hymn to angels over Berlin, is one of the great movies about human empathy. In Wenders’ wreck of a Berlin, split in two by the graffiti-covered Berlin Wall, angels are the great sympathizers. Looming in Henri Alekan’s silvery black-and-white shots, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) have spent eternity in Berlin, clad in long black trenchcoats, strolling, wandering around the crumbling city, serving witness to the city’s people. And that is, simply, what they do: they bear witness.

Alekan’s gentle, precise camera slowly drifts throughout the city, stopping at a circus, the film set for a schlocky Nazi drama, through the windows of an apartment, the exhausted faces of the people on the train, the cacophony of thoughts in the library. Throughout it all, the history and hurt of Berlin’s past and present weighs on the characters. There’s something holy and precious in these first few scenes; Wenders and Peter Handke came up with beautiful elliptical poetry. You’re in the shoes of the angels, bearing witness to humanity in a wholly new way. The angels listen and listen to people’s thoughts. They have favorites, like the profound old man Homer (Curt Bois), who ruminates on the Berlin that was and the Berlin that will be. People can’t see the angels. They provide comfort with an errant, unfelt hand of the shoulder, a lean of the head, their very presence.

Wings of Desire

When the angels find a slapdash local carnival, Damiel is gone. He falls in love with a beautiful trapeze artist, Marion (Solveig Donmartin), who dresses up as an angel and flies through the air for audiences made up of cow-eyed children. She likes Nick Cave, and she’s lonely. Her world is one of color: glorious red dresses, a curtain of curly hair. As the love story between the angel and the trapeze artist dressed up as an angel develops, Wenders takes us around Berlin—to a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show in a ruined hotel, to a food truck with Peter Falk (whose presence in this film is simply a stroke of genius), to the beauty of a human body bending and folding, flying around the trapeze.

The film is a masterpiece. It grows richer with color and meaning with every viewing. The Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, often screens the film during Christmastime, along with It’s a Wonderful Life (unfortunately, it’s not on the schedule for this December). That’s where I first saw the film, and it’s a grand place to bear witness: huddling into a warm theater, away from the blanket of snow, to watch angels, whimsy, and sympathy on the big screen. Wings of Desire is nothing more then a transcendent invitation to empathy.