Cannes – Wim Wenders returns to Germany with a sublimely beautiful, deeply romantic film for our times; this tale of angels watching over the citizens of Berlin springs from the great tradition of pics about angels involved in human affairs (“It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Here Comes Mr Jordan,” etc), but is a quintessential Wenders film. It should find appreciative audiences in art houses around the world.
Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander are angels who spend their time watching over the humans of the divided city. Sometimes in flight (we never see them actually fly, though) and sometimes perched in high places, they come down to Earth to listen to the thoughts of the sad or lonely or needy. First part of the film establishes this mysterious world, with the whispering thoughts of humans filling the soundtrack.
Three humans are singled out. One’s an old man, played by veteran Curt Bois, with memories of Berlin’s shattered past. Another is Peter Falk, American movie actor in Berlin to make a pic about the Nazi era. The third is a beautiful trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin). One of the angels, the one played by Ganz, begins to feel mortal when he watches the girl, and the film, which hitherto has been in black & white, has moments of color as humanity begins to encroach on the world of this angel.
There’s a magical moment when Sander, the other angel, notices Ganz is leaving footprints; it means he’s almost completely human. Last quarter of the film, all in color, has a humanized Ganz walking the streets, meeting with Falk – who reveals he was once an angel himself! – and, finally, meeting the girl who made him mortal.
Wenders invests this potentially risible material with such serenity and beauty that audiences will go along willingly with the fable. Above all, pic does for the city of Berlin what “Kings of the Road” and “Alice in the Cities” did for the German countryside and “Paris, Texas” did for the Lone Star State. The film is a valentine to the city, with Henri Alekan’s camera gliding and prowling around familiar landmarks as well as unknown backstreets. Visually, the film is a joy.
Peter Przygodda’s editing is typically loose; Wenders has never hurried things, and he doesn’t here, delivering a 130-minute film that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Jurgen Knieper’s music beautifully enhances the moods the director is seeking.
Bruno Ganz makes the angel who becomes human a very warm character; Otto Sander is memorable as his watchful partner; Solveig Dommartin is lovely as the girl on the flying trapeze; and Peter Falk has some amusing moments as one human who can feel the presence of an angel because he was once one himself.
Wenders’ affection of rock music is here, too; the climactic meeting between Ganz and Dommartin takes place at a bar alongside a concert hall where Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are performing. Typically, this scene is not at all schmaltzy; when the couple finally meet, they talk seriously about the future.
Wenders is on top form with this lovely effort, dedicated to “all former angels” – they include Yasujiro Ozu and Francois Truffaut.