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Review: Wings of Desire on DVD
Wim Wenders' Der Himmel über Berlin

(Der Himmel über Berlin)
Special Edition DVD - MGM
Black & white, color, widescreen
With audio commentary by Wim Wenders and Peter Falk
Special features: Interactive Berlin map, "The Angels
   Among Us" (a background featurette), original ad artwork

Wings DVD
The Special Edition DVD of WINGS OF DESIRE.

It has been a long wait. Those of us who fell in love with Wim Wenders' angelic Berlin film when it was first released in 1987 have long hoped for something better than the mediocre VHS video version. The advent of the DVD format only made the former VHS version seem more inadequate, a pale shadow of the original. With the new DVD release of Wings of Desire, this modern classic once again glows in the original rich black-and-white imagery (with touches of color) so skillfully shot by the late Henri Alekan (who was in his mid-80s at the time he worked on Wings). In fact, Wenders claims the color and black-and-white images of the DVD are superior to the original, which had to be printed on color film stock for its theatrical release.

Despite a rather modest set of special features, the new DVD has other benefits. Seeing Wim Wenders' masterpiece again on this well-mastered DVD not only refreshes old memories, but also brings forth a new appreciation of forgotten or missed aspects of this cinematic opus. For one thing, as the director himself remarks in his commentary, Wings of Desire has become a truly historic document. Many of the film's locations, shot in West Berlin when the Wall was still standing, have vanished like the Wall itself. Wings has become a visual record of many things that disappeared along with the Berlin Wall. But, of course, Wenders' film is much more than that. It somehow manages to be both a lyrical and a gritty look at life, particularly life in western Berlin in the late 1980s. The director's commentary also leads to increased insight—both into his film and the city of Berlin.

At first, Berlin may not seem a very likely candidate for a “city of angels.” But Wim Wenders made his adopted German hometown the star of this homage to optimism and the concept of guardian angels. The actors work in locations that co-star in the film. Berlin's vast public library, the Staatsbibliothek, in particular, stands out as a gathering place for the angels, a cathedral filled with books and the thoughts of readers. Naturally, the Berlin Wall—that no one making the film ever expected to fall in their lifetimes—also stars in the film. Both the real Wall's west side and a fake set of the no-man's-land on the east side (filming in East Berlin was impossible at the time) also star in Wings of Desire.

Not that the human actors aren't equal to the scenery. The two angels played by Bruno Ganz (Damiel) and Otto Sander (Cassiel) are not only very believable but appealing. We also see how being an angel isn't all it's cracked up to be. Their longing for the simple human joys of taste, smell, love, and color (the film's contrast of black and white versus color reflects the latter) becomes painfully clear. Former angel Peter Falk as himself (plus his world-famous Columbo persona) is a vital subtle comic touch.

Considering that Wenders and his fellow filmmakers practically made the whole thing up as they went along, it is a remarkable collaboration (including words by the Austrian poet Peter Handke and music by the German composer Jürgen Knieper) with magical results. Even if you usually avoid “art house” films, realize that Wings of Desire is a film that had a huge impact around the world and may have a huge impact on you.

For German-learners, the film on DVD is a godsend. You have the choice of German with or without English subtitles. The interactive map of Berlin filming locations offers a closer look at this cultural and geographic aspect of the movie. For film-lovers, the DVD's extra features and audio commentary reveal even more of why this film is a Wim Wenders masterwork.

Although it's not as good as Wings of Desire, Wenders' follow-up film, Far Away, So Close (1993), is well worth viewing. The post-Wall production, featuring Nastassja Kinksi, was filmed mostly on the other side of the Wall (in the East) and reveals a stark contrast to the original as it follows the life of the angel-turned-human Damiel (Bruno Ganz). The 1998 Hollywood remake City of Angels, directed by Brad Silberling and starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, only serves to emphasize how much better the original is.

Wings of Desire
Director: Wim Wenders
Cast: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Peter Falk, Curt Bois
Script: Wim Wenders and Peter Handke
Cinematography: Henri Alekan
Music: Jürgen Knieper

DVD > WINGS OF DESIRE - Special Edition DVD

WEB > Wim Wenders - The German-Hollywood Connection
WEB > Wim-Wenders.com - The official site

Also see our review of The Third Man on DVD.

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