Wings of Desire is a pitcher whose title no one types without referring parenthetically to its original foreign-language title. I’ll start again.
Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) is Wim Wenders’s 1987 epic — “epic” in the proper sense of ἐπικός, a “story made of words” — about angels who spend eternity drifting, often literally, over and amidst pre-unification Berlin while eavesdropping on mortals at their daily tasks. Because this is Berlin, such tasks include hunkering over obscure codices in Hans Scharoun’s modernist State Library, attending a traveling Hungarian circus, and making a movie about Nazis starring Peter Falk. There’s also plenty of coffee-sipping at kiosks and cigarette-lighting behind cupped hands.
I first saw Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) in the year of its release. I was overwhelmed by its sepia beauty, by its poetry (those stripped-down incantations that were Peter Handke’s contribution to the script), and especially by its blatant romanticism.
Near the end of the pitcher, Bruno Ganz’s Damiel elects to return to a clunky, dysfunctional, transitory existence unknown in the hereafter. Earlier, in a conversation with his sidekick and fellow-angel Cassiel, he reflects wistfully on the attractions of earthly life, enumerating various humdrum sensations and trivialities. “Ah,” he concludes, “to be able to guess, not always to know.”
Having as an angel fallen in love with the sublunary — and therefore unreachable — Marion (Solveig Dommartin as a trapeze performer in that above-mentioned circus), the now-corporeal Damiel struggles initially to locate his beloved on the ground. When he does, it is only by mundane — which is to say mystical — coincidence. She has ducked out of a Bad Seeds performance to grab a drink in the club’s ornate belle-époque bar and happens to take the stool adjacent to Damiel’s. Hesitantly he woos her. As we watch them in paired close-up she speaks cryptically and chastely, almost — dare I say it? — ethereally.
Damiel at last summons the courage to lean in nearer, his face darkening like a moon within the shadow of Marion’s profile. This scene is, for my ten Netflix bucks, among the most emotionally wrenching in all of cinema. Their romance begins as all great romances must, with a whispering of terms.