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Wings of Desire

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Subject: Wim Wenders, 1988 National Society of Film Critics Awards, 1987 Cannes Film Festival, Nick Cave, Peter Falk
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Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire
US theatrical release poster
Directed by Wim Wenders
Produced by Wim Wenders
Anatole Dauman
Written by Wim Wenders
Peter Handke
Richard Reitinger
Starring Bruno Ganz
Solveig Dommartin
Otto Sander
Curt Bois
Peter Falk
Music by Jürgen Knieper
Cinematography Henri Alekan
Edited by Peter Przygodda
Road Movies Filmproduktion
Westdeutscher Rundfunk
Distributed by

Basis-Film-Verleih GmbH (West Germany)
Argos Films (France)
Orion Classics (US)

Axiom Films (UK and Ireland)
Release dates
  • 23 September 1987 (1987-09-23) (France)
  • 27 October 1987 (1987-10-27) (West Germany)
  • 6 May 1988 (1988-05-06) (United States)
Running time 127 minutes
Country West Germany
Language German
Budget 2.5 million[1]
Box office USD$3,210,139[2]

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, translated literally as The Sky over Berlin or Heaven above Berlin) is a 1987 Franco-German romantic fantasy film directed by Wim Wenders. The film is about invisible, immortal angels who populate Berlin and listen to the thoughts of the human inhabitants and comfort those who are in distress. Even though the city is densely populated, many of the people are isolated or estranged from their loved ones. One of the angels, played by Bruno Ganz, falls in love with a beautiful, lonely trapeze artist. The angel chooses to become human so that he can experience the human sensory pleasures, ranging from enjoying food to touching a loved one, and so that he can experience human love with the trapeze artist. The film is shot in both a rich, sepia-toned black-and-white and color, with the former being used to represent the world as experienced by the angels.

The film was followed by a sequel, Faraway, So Close!, in 1993. City of Angels, an American remake,[3] was released in 1998.


Set in contemporary West Berlin (at the time still enclosed by the Berlin Wall), Wings of Desire follows two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, as they roam the city, unseen and unheard by its human inhabitants, observing and listening to the diverse thoughts of Berliners: a pregnant woman in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, a painter struggling to find inspiration, a broken man who thinks his girlfriend no longer loves him. Their raison d'être is, as Cassiel says, to "assemble, testify, preserve" reality. In addition to the story of two angels, the film is also a meditation on Berlin's past, present, and future. Damiel and Cassiel have always existed as angels; they existed in Berlin before it was a city, and before there were even any humans.

Among the Berliners they encounter in their wanderings is an old man named Homer, who, unlike the Greek poet Homer, dreams of an "epic of peace." Cassiel follows the old man as he looks for the then-demolished Potsdamer Platz in an open field, and finds only the graffiti-covered Berlin Wall. Although Damiel and Cassiel are pure observers, visible only to children, and incapable of any physical interaction with our world, Damiel begins to fall in love with a profoundly lonely circus trapeze artist named Marion. She lives by herself in a caravan, dances alone to the music of Crime & the City Solution, and drifts through the city.

A subplot follows Peter Falk, who has arrived in Berlin to make a film about Berlin's Nazi past. As the film progresses, it emerges that Peter Falk was once an angel, who, having grown tired of always observing and never experiencing, renounced his immortality to become a participant in the world.

While Damiel is omniscient and lives in eternity, Marion is mortal and lives the human aspiration to be immortal and perfect by wearing a pair of white wings (which in frustration, at one point, she calls "chicken feathers"), climbing a rope, swinging from a bar in a cheap circus, toying with death, as there is no net, and with her human clumsiness reaches upward to the grace expressed in the idea of an angel. Her aspiration is both absurd and divine.

As one can take only so much of infinity, Damiel's longing is in the opposite direction, for the genuineness and limitedness of human existence in the world, perhaps a reference to Dasein, or Existenz. When he sheds his immortal existence, he experiences life for the first time: he bleeds, sees colors for the first time (the movie up to this point is filmed in a sepia-toned monochrome, except for brief moments when the angels are not present or looking), tastes food and drinks coffee. Meanwhile, Cassiel inadvertently taps into the mind of a young man just about to commit suicide by jumping off a building. Cassiel tries to save the young man but is unable to do so, and is left haunted and tormented by the experience. Eventually, Damiel meets the trapeze artist Marion at a bar (during a concert by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), and they greet each other with familiarity as if they had long known each other. In the end, Damiel is united with the woman he has desired for so long. The film ends with the message: "To be continued."

The story is concluded in Wenders' 1993 sequel, In weiter Ferne, so nah! (Faraway, So Close!).



Screenplay and improvisation

Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry partially inspired the movie;[4] Wenders claimed angels seemed to dwell in Rilke's poetry. The director also employed Peter Handke, who wrote much of the dialogue, the poetic narrations, and the film's recurring poem "Song of Childhood."

The movie was made with a minimalist script; it is a mood piece exploring people, the city, and a concept: a longing for and love of life, existence, reality. Peter Falk wasn't meant to be a sketch artist until Wenders discovered Falk's talent. Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander were cast because they were old friends, who had known each other for decades. Solveig Dommartin was Wenders' actress girlfriend; although the circus part required extensive and risky acrobatics, she was able to learn the trapeze and rope moves in only eight weeks, and did all the work herself, without a net.


The film was shot by the 77-year-old cinematographer Henri Alekan, who had worked on Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête. It represents the angels' point of view in monochrome and switches to color to show the human point of view. During filming, Alekan used a very old and fragile silk stocking that had belonged to his grandmother as a filter for the monochromatic sequences.

The shift from monochrome to color, to distinguish the angels' reality from that of the mortals, was first used in A Matter of Life and Death by Powell and Pressburger in 1946.

Deleted scenes

As revealed in the DVD, Wings of Desire could have turned out to be a far less serious film. Cut scenes from the beginning of the film had Cassiel humorously mimicking the humans' actions. Other cut scenes were experiments of how to show the angel's invisibility/lack of physical form using double exposure. There was also a female angel who was cut from the movie, appearing only during a pan-shot in the library scene. The end was much different from the final cut—it was originally to have Cassiel turn human as well, and finding Damiel and Marion at the bar where they engage in a pie fight.


In the closing titles it says: "Dedicated to all the former angels, but especially to Yasujiro, François and Andrej." This is a reference to fellow filmmakers Yasujirō Ozu, François Truffaut, and Andrei Tarkovsky.


Angel is a building in Prague designed by Jean Nouvel; it features an angel from the film observing the people of the Smíchov district.

Wings of Desire received "Two Thumbs Up" from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on Siskel & Ebert & The Movies.[5] Leslie James of 680 News Toronto claims it is one of the best movies of all time. It was ranked #64 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[6] The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes records that 98% of its cited critics gave the film a positive review.[7]


The film won the award for Best Director at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.[8] In 1988, it won the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.


In 1998, an American remake called City of Angels was released. The setting was Los Angeles and starred Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. Apart from the premise of angels watching humans, the opening scene also taking place in a landmark library, a secondary love story arc, and specific parts of the script, City of Angels is different in many aspects to Wenders' original film.

Theatrical adaptation

The first theatrical adaptation of Wings of Desire was created by the Northern Stage theatre company in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK in 2003. This particular adaptation, which used film footage of the city and stories from the community, was adapted and directed by Alan Lyddiard who then re-created it at Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen in 2005.

In 2006, the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Toneelgroep Amsterdam presented another stage adaptation of the movie, created by Gideon Lester and Dirkje Houtman and directed by Ola Mafaalani.

In popular culture

The movie was a direct influence to the videoclip of Guardian by Canadian-American recording artist Alanis Morissette, released as the lead single from her eighth studio album, Havoc and Bright Lights.


  1. ^ Heidi Lüdi - Viktoria
  2. ^ Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ "Wings of Desire (The Criterion Collection)". Paste Magazine. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ reviewSiskel & Ebert & The Movies
  6. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema: 64. Wings of Desire". Empire. 
  7. ^ Rotten Tomatoes
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Wings of Desire". Retrieved 2009-07-19. 

External links

  • Official website
  • Wings of Desire at the Internet Movie Database
  • Wings of Desire at AllMovie
  • Wings of Desire at Box Office Mojo
  • Wings of Desire at Rotten Tomatoes
  • Page by the film's art designer
  • "Great Movies" review by Roger Ebert
  • Voted #12 on The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films (2010)
  • PoMo Desire?: Authorship and Agency in Wim Wenders' Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire) by Nathan Wolfson
  • POV Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire (interviews and articles)
  • POV n°8 pdf version
  • American Repertory Theater
  • Wings of DesireAngels and the Modern City: Essay on Wenders' film
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