Only children can see them, perhaps because they are still filled with curiosity and hope. Most of the adults depicted are full of woe, unsure about their lovers, their children, and themselves. Some ponder suicide. One commits. This pain is all a risk one of the angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), will take when he lays eyes on Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a lonely trapeze artist with angel wings for a costume.
A question raised by Wenders is, what happens when the immortal wishes to be mortal and to experience the Now and not the Eternity? One thing, we learn, is that the world becomes uglier with this newfound color. The intended feeling is that Damiel’s world is now more vibrant and filled with life that he is mortal and in love. But when Wenders and his cinematographer, Henri Alekan (Jean Cocteau‘s Beauty and the Beast), paint both Berlin and Damiel with colors better saved for the circus after photographing the city and its inhabitants in pristine black-and-white, they demonstrate just how quickly a gorgeous work of art can be abolished for a sappy cartoon.
There are other problems in the final half-hour of Wings of Desire than just the devastating Crayola spill. It’s here that Wenders misplaces the meaning of the picture and that the viewer could reasonably ask, What’s the point of it all? What begins as a meditative and human work of beauty and poetry molds itself into a demonstration on how Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are the most universal aphrodisiac. All the while, the other angel, Cassiel (Otto Sander), is shoved to the side, even after a devastating moment with a suicidal man, a short scene that seemingly posed too much of a threat to the silly romance plotline that encompasses the final act.
Most of this review has been negative. This isn’t because I find the film bad as a whole. It’s a remarkable and daring experiment by Wenders, and one that I, like many others, admire greatly. But it’s not fair to relish praise on 127 of a film when only 90 are worthy of it.
The final text on the screen reads: “To be continued.” And it is. Wenders directed a sequel in 1993 titled Faraway, So Close! (maybe you’ve heard the U2 song), but I cannot bring myself to see it, just as I often find myself unable to watch the final half-hour of Wings of Desire. It feels more complete without either.
The Angels Among Us (43:09): This 2003 documentary uses interviews with Wenders, co-writer Peter Handke, actors Falk, Bruno Ganz, and Otto Sander, and others to provide a detailed background on Wings of Desire. Topics of focus include the story’s evolution, casting, the visual style (namely B&W), the costumes, Jürgen Knieper’s score, the film’s legacy, and much more. An essential watch.
Cinéma Cinémas (9:24): This episode of the French television program, titled “Wim Wender Berlin Jan. 87,” features footage from the set of Wings of Desire as well as commentary from Wenders.
Deleted Scenes and Outtakes: There are nine deleted scenes, all accompanied with comments from Wenders, who explains the “leftover shots” for viewers. The outtakes are only viewable with music.
Alekan ‘85 (10:16): In these interview excerpts from 1985, cinematographer Henri Alekan sits down to discuss his work, his methods for lighting, his format preferences, and more. Fascinating insight from one of the great cinematographers.
Alekan la Lumiére (27:11): These excerpts from Michel Dumoulin’s 1985 documentary of the same name also features Henri Alekan, who expounds further on his methods. This piece is an improvement over the last, as it shows Alekan at work and could be used as a valuable study piece for aspiring cinematographers.
Remembrance (29:42): This addition uses excerpts from a 1982 film directed by Wings of Desire stars Ganz and Sander. In the doc, Ganz and Sander pay tribute to German movie star Curt Bois, who plays Homer in Wings of Desire. A personal look at life and career of the man behind one of the film’s more intriguing characters.
Also on this disc are a Gallery and Trailers.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 28-page booklet with a poem by co-writer Peter Handke, an essay titled “Watch the Skies” by film critic Michael Atkinson, and “an attempted description” by director Wim Wenders.