Part of what is so stunning about "Wings of Desire" is the look of the movie. Henri Alekan's cinematography is seductive, tender, and mesmerizing. One thing I found particularly impressive was the way the film's photography seemed almost weightlessand, in itself, was like seeing through the eyes of angels. I also loved that the camerawork was not afraid to linger on the faces of people and the Berlin locations. Most of the film is in black-and-white, which indicates that what is happening is seen from an angel's point of view. There are also passages in vivid color, which indicates that what is happening is seen from a human's point of view.
This film is languorously paced, yet it drew me in immediately, and the feeling of watching it was much like being lost in a dream. What happens in "Wings of Desire" is mostly driven by poetic images, including the expressive faces of the actors. Also, the device of having the thoughts of troubled souls expressed in voice-over narration helps to shape the film's story. The plot is deceptively simple on the surface, but it is also deeply resonant.
Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are angels who wander around Berlin, observing the people of the city and listening to their thoughts. The angels can't enjoy sensual earthly pleasures, nor can they speak with or physically touch the troubled mortal souls they are trying to help. However, sometimes they can "touch" a person in the sense that they may be able to transmit comforting spiritual energy.
The film focuses mainly on the angel Damiel who longs for the corporeal pleasures of an earth-bound existence, especially after falling in love with a beautiful trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin). Eventually, Damiel is given an important piece of information by American actor Peter Falk (playing himself), who is in Berlin to play the role of a detective in a movie.
"Wings of Desire" is a haunting film with many scenes that linger in my mind, but Ill mention only a couple I found particularly striking.
There's a stunning scene where Damiel watches Marion rehearsing her trapeze act while wearing wings made of chicken feathers. Part of the genius of the scene is that she looks like an earthly version of an angel as she goes through her routine.
The pull Damiel feels towards her goes beyond his guardian angel dutieshe wants to actually touch her, feel her physicality, in addition to having her see and feel him. Throughout the film, there's a sense of seeing through the eyes of angels, and here, we see Marion as he sees her, making the dilemma he's facing immediately understandable and all the more moving. Also, to my mind, theres a guileless simplicity to this scene that adds to its power.
Another scene that particularly struck me was the one where Peter Falk senses Damiel's presence at an outdoor snack bar and tries to explain some of the pleasures of earthly existence: "To smoke to have coffee. And if you do it together, it's fantastic." I thought that one key to the success of this scene was Peter Falk is a man who radiates the joy of life and its simpler pleasures.
To my mind, a major theme in "Wings of Desire" is how mankind needs both spirituality and sensuality.