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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. However, Damiel 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 examples of:

  • All-Loving Hero: The angels.
  • And Starring: Peter Falk gets an "In a special appearance" credit.
  • Angelic Transformation: Angels can literally fall from grace to become human. The main character wishes to do this out of love for a mortal.
  • Angels in Overcoats: Likely Trope Maker. All angel characters, in particular Damiel and Cassiel, but also the secondaries, are all wearing smart wool overcoats during their Earthly tenure. Damiel gets to keep his overcoat even after becoming human.
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  • Arc Words: The "Lied von 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, and earlier Crime and the City Solution in a similar context. Turns out Marion is a fan.
  • Author Appeal: Wim Wenders is a huge fan of Nick Cave and Post-Punk in general, which is why Marion is seen listening to Nick Cave and going to shows for him and Crime and the City Solution.
  • Big "NO!": Cassiel's reaction to the suicide is an anguished "Nein!"
  • Bilingual Bonus: Marion, who is originally from France, speaks both French and German in her inner monologue. Peter Falk only speaks in English. Several other anonymous characters speak in Turkish, Spanish, and Hebrew, some of it unsubtitled.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Damiel leaves his angelic nature to become human and finds true love and joy on earth. Cassiel, by contrast, is left tormented by his failure to save a human. The sequel puts more emphasis on "sweet" as Cassiel becomes human, learns the meaning of life and Dies Happily Ever After, becoming an angel again, to the now-mortal Damiel's joy.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Dedication: The closing credits start by saying "Dedicated to all the former angels, but especially to Yasujiro, François and Andrej." This is in reference to Yasujiro Ozu, François Truffaut, and Andrei Tarkovsky, all of whom were influences on the film that had died shortly before its release.
  • 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.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Marion.
  • Driven to Suicide: A young man jumps off a roof to his death, too quickly for Cassiel to influence his thoughts and save him and too distracted by his cassette player to hear the people pleading him to stop.
  • 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.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: When Damiel faces Peter Falk in human form, the latter notes that he expected a toller man.
  • Eye Open: Starts with a tight closeup on Damiel's eye.
  • French Accordion: It's a French circus and at one point an accordion player is consoling Marion with his instrument.
  • Friend to All Children: The angels, who can only be seen by children for the most part, have several scenes where they act pleasantly and respectfully towards children.
  • Goth: Several can be seen in the crowd during the concert scenes.
  • Growing Up Sucks: The first few times we hear the "Song of Childhood" poem, it's musing about how children lose their sense of awe and wonder as they grow older. Subverted in the latter half of the film after Damiel becomes human, when the poem instead begins to talk about how some things in life never lose their wonder as one becomes an adult.
  • Guardian Angel: Downplayed. The angels provide comfort but can't or won't directly intervene in human affairs (as with the suicide).
  • Heroic BSoD: Cassiel has one after failing to stop a young man from leaping to his death, leaping off of the Berlin Victory Column in despair before wandering all around the city in a daze, observing various scenes of human desperation. He spends the rest of the film after this in a state of deep melancholy.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Ultimately defied, as despite observing ordinary misery all around Berlin and presumably witnessing some of the worst horrors in history, the angels never lose their faith in people. At one point Damiel and Cassiel have a conversation where Cassiel muses about how humans have always fought and persecuted each other, but Damiel counters by saying that they have always loved each other as well.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Before his last song, Nick Cave promises himself that he is not telling the audience about a girl. Cue him announcing the song being about a girl.
  • Invisible to Adults: Only children can see the angels (although a few adults can sense their presence).
  • Knife-Throwing Act: At the children's circus.
  • Lady in Red: Marion, when she 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.
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Damiel's clothing choice after he gets humanized.
  • Scenery Gorn: The zone near the Berlin Wall are nothing but gloomy.
  • Shout-Out: Ganz says he wants to go home and feed the cat "like Phillip Marlowe".
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Despite showing some of the dark side of humanity, the film ultimately has an optimistic message about finding meaning and beauty in life.
  • 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.
  • Winged Humanoid: The angels only have wings sometimes, such as Damiel in the first scene.