Film / Wings of Desire

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A 1987 film by Wim Wenders originally called Der Himmel über Berlin (lit: 'The Heavens Above Berlin').

The film depicts two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, wandering in Cold War era Berlin and listening to the thoughts of humans. Among those humans are an old man looking for the now-destroyed Potsdamer Platz and recalling the good times he used to have there; Peter Falk As Himself; and Marion, a lonely French trapezist.

The angels don't directly intervene in human existence but sometimes give comfort to humans who need it, like a woman in labor, or a suicidal man on a tram, or a motorcyclist who is dying in the street after he was struck by a car. Damiel however yearns to be human himself, and to experience life as a mortal does. Eventually he falls in love with Marion the trapeze artist, and has to make a difficult choice.

A sequel, Faraway So Close, was made in 1993. The first film received a very loose American remake, City of Angels, in 1998.

Bruno Ganz, who plays Damiel, would explore the other extreme of the good-to-evil spectrum a quarter-century later when he played Adolf Hitler in Downfall. Curt Bois, who plays the elderly storyteller, was the pickpocket ("vultures, vultures everywhere") in Casablanca.


This film provides example of:

  • And Starring: Peter Falk gets an "In a special appearance" credit.
  • Arc Words: The "Lied vom Kindsein", with its repetitive structure, appears throughout the movie.
    Als das Kind Kind war...
  • As Himself:
    • Peter Falk as himself—he's even called "Columbo"—an American actor filming a movie in Berlin. He's eventually revealed to be a former angel.
    • Nick Cave as himself performing with the Bad Seeds. Turns out Marion is a fan.
  • Big "NO!": Cassiel's reaction to the suicide is an anguished "Nein!"
  • By the Eyes of the Blind: Usually it's children, but Damiel says that a blind woman sensed his presence and was moved to adjust her watch.
  • Children Are Special: Only children can see the angels (although a few adults can sense their presence).
  • Color Motif: It eventually becomes clear that events shown from the perspective of the angels are Deliberately Monochrome while scenes not from their perspective are the ones in color. This is illustrated by a scene in Marion's trailer that shifts from black and white to color after Damiel leaves. Moments after Damiel takes human form, he buttonholes a random passerby to find out what all the colors are called.
    Damiel: (looking at his own blood) Is this red?
  • Defector From Paradise: An angel falls in love with a human and chooses to become human himself in order to be with her, leaving Heaven.
  • Deliberately Monochrome : The film is shot that way because the angels don't see colours until one of them becomes human.
  • Driven to Suicide: A young man jumps off a roof to his death, too quickly for Cassiel to influence his thoughts and save him.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Many shots of Berlin landmarks, both famous (Cassiel perched atop the Berlin Victory Column) and infamous (the Berlin Wall, still standing in 1986).
  • Everyone Looks Sexier If French: A trapezist? Sounds sexy. A French trapezist? Sounds goddess.
  • Eye Open: Starts with a tight closeup on Damiel's eye.
  • Guardian Angel: Downplayed. The angels provide comfort but can't or won't directly intervene in human affairs (as with the suicide).
  • Invisible to Adults: The angels.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: At the children's circus.
  • Lady in Red: Marion when eventually meets Damiel as a human wears a lavish red dress.
  • Match Cut:
    • One scene smoothly transitions from a stock footage clip of a bombed out 1945 Berlin street to a clean, modern 1986 street. (Maybe the same one?)
    • There is a similar match cut between a black-and-white view of the Berlin skyline (right after the boy jumps to his death, from Cassiel's perspective) to a color shot of the skyline from a hotel room where Peter Falk is watching an interview of himself on television.
  • Meaningful Name: The old man who describes himself as a storyteller (Curt Bois) is identified in the end credits as "Homer".
  • Mind Reading: The angels can read the thoughts of the humans they encounter.
  • Our Angels Are Different: Damiel and Cassiel only sometimes have wings and otherwise look like two ordinary middle age men. Also, their powers are limited and both (especially Damiel) are tired of being angels rather than human.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome: Both angels at the beginning discuss how they'd like to be human for a change; one of them has his wish come true.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: In the English release, the dialogue of a young Spanish girl, a Japanese woman and a Pakistani woman are left untranslated.
  • Scenery Gorn: The zone near the Berlin Wall are nothing buy gloomy.
  • Scenery Porn: Indeed Berlin is the true protagonist.
  • Shout-Out: Ganz says he wants to go home and feed the cat "like Phillip Marlowe".
  • Smoking Is Cool: The pleasure of taking a drag on a cigarette is just one of the earthly delights a newly human Damiel enjoys.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Peter Falk can't see Damiel but senses him, and greets him, calling him "compañero". When Damiel takes human form, he makes himself known to Falk by hailing him with that word.
  • Splash of Color: The first bit of color is startling, coming out of nowhere and gone just as soon, a brief shot of Marion on the trapeze. This is the first hint that the angels perceive the world in black and white—this brief shot is not from Damiel's perspective.
  • Stock Footage: Bits of horrifying stock footage of the destruction of World War II are sprinkled throughout.

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