When it comes to Wings of Desire, it is a film whose spirit is much better served to be expressed through any other medium than words. Perhaps I could paint your a picture or play you an instrumental number with more ease than explaining the ineffable essence of what makes Wim Wender’s late-1980s film such a profoundly beautiful masterpiece. I’m not a religious person by any means, nor particularly spiritual, but there’s a very specific feeing emitted by Wings of Desire that feels touched by a divine presence—both hauntingly meditative and wonderfully enrapturing. The romantic fantasy of a film tells the tale of immortal angels who reside over Berlin, listening in on the thoughts of humans, comforting those in distress, and longing for their own ability to taste the pleasures of the living. In an article which originally appeared in The Logic of Images in 1987, Wenders said:
I really don’t know what gave me the idea of angels. One day I wrote “angels” in my notebook, and the next day “the unemployed.” Maybe it was because I was reading Rilke at the time—nothing to do with films—and realizing as I read how much of his writing is inhabited by angels. Reading Rilke every night, perhaps I got used to the idea of angels being around.
And we, spectators always, everywhere,looking at, never out of, everything!
You have a wish.You wish that something might exist, and then you work on it until it does. You want to give something to the world, something truer, more beautiful, more painstaking, more serviceable, or simply something other than what already exists. And right at the start, simultaneous with the wish, you imagine what that “something other” might be like, or at least you see something flash by. And then you set off in the direction of the flash, and you hope you don’t lose your orientation, or forget or betray the wish you had at the beginning.And in the end, you have a picture or pictures of something, you have music, or something that operates in some new way, or a story, or this quite extraordinary combination of all these things: a film. Only with a film—as opposed to paintings, novels, music, or inventions—you have to present an account of your desire; more, you even have to describe in advance the path you want to go with your film. No wonder, then, that so many films lose their first flash, their comet.
The thing I wished for and saw flashing was a film in and about Berlin.A film that might convey something of the history of the city since 1945. A film that might succeed in capturing what I miss in so many films that are set here, something that seems to be so palpably there when you arrive in Berlin: a feeling in the air and under your feet and in people’s faces that makes life in this city so different from life in other cities.To explain and clarify my wish, I should add: it’s the desire of someone who’s been away from Germany for a long time, and who could only ever experience “Germanness” in this one city. I should say I’m no Berliner. Who is nowadays? But for over twenty years now, visits to this city have given me my only genuine experiences of Germany, because the (hi)story that elsewhere in the country is suppressed or denied is physically and emotionally present here.Of course I didn’t want just to make a film about the place, Berlin. What I wanted to make was a film about people—people here in Berlin—that considered the one perennial question: how to live?
When God, endlessly disappointed, finally prepared to turn his back on the world forever, it happened that some of his angels disagreed with him and took the side of man, saying he deserved to be given another chance.Angry at being crossed, god banished them to what was then the most terrible place on earth: berlin.And then he turned away.All this happened at the time that we today call: “the end of the second world war.”Since that time, these fallen angels from “the second angelic rebellion” have been imprisoned in the city, with no prospect of release, let alone of being readmitted to heaven. they are condemned to be witnesses, forever nothing but onlookers, unable to affect men in the slightest, or to intervene in the course of history. they are unable to so much as move a grain of sand . . .