An amazing blogathon containing nothing but circus-themed film reviews with a freak-ish flavor to some. I love the circus, preferably on its darker side – tricks, freaks, and a lot of mystique. It’s a wonderful theme for a blogathon and I’m so up for contributing.
And so I chose Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987). I can’t believe how long it took me to write this review. Deleting, editing, reading, editing again, goodness. It appears there are a lot of aspects to cover with this film which results in me straying from the subject (a little). Wim Wenders has made quite an accomplishment with Wings of Desire. It’s one of the most recognized films in cinema history, acclaimed by many critics and film bloggers. It blends theological anecdotes with romantic ones, set in dim lit Berlin. Perfect.
Wings of Desire chronicles trench-coated angels populating the city of Berlin, tapping into people’s thoughts and dreams and comforting those in distress. They are unseen and unheard by humans, except for children. The film focuses on angels Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) drifting the streets of Berlin and encountering humans in various situations – an old man looking for (then demolished) Potsdamer Platz, an American actor (Peter Falk), and a circus act, where Damiel falls in love with a lonely trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin). Damiel observes humankind in awe. He wants to become one; feel, taste, know – “At last to guess instead of knowing. To be able to say, ‘Ah, and oh, and hey, instead of yes and Amen.” He’s that one curious angel who’s after more than just a spiritual being.
Inspired by poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s work, the film has recurring storytelling narrated by novelist Peter Handke, who also wrote most of the film’s dialog. Handke’s deep and somewhat disturbing voice fully reflects the post-war desolated atmosphere of Berlin, an appropriate contradiction to the Song of Childhood poem he keeps narrating, which tells of exuberant creativity and curiosity of a young mind. Thoughts of random individuals are shot in monochromatic dusky camera filters (using a silk stocking to create a sepia-tinged black & white texture) that emphasize the peculiar quality and complexity of earthlings in the eyes of immortals. A subplot follows actor Peter Falk who stars in a film about Berlin’s Nazi past. Throughout the film, Falk is capable of seeing and hearing the angels, a fact suggesting he was once an angel himself.
The cast is brilliant with no exceptions, though, I chose the film because of Marion. Her character is interesting, deep, beautiful and does what I always dream of doing – swing on a trapeze. She lives by herself in a caravan, dances alone to dark music (Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave). Something about her is just spellbinding.
The once aspiring Marion who’s about to give her last performance is distracted by utter loneliness and the absence of pleasure, inner thoughts which only Damiel can hear. The circus is closing down due to lack of funds, and poor Marion might have to go back to waitressing, a job she was most willing to waive. Her dream of rising up through her art is gone, not only that, she’s alone, longing for a human touch. Her small time gig on the trapeze is her refuge as well as her risk. What if she’s to fall down and break her neck? Marion’s fears ultimately reflect the aviation of angels and their fear of falling down, so suggested with Marion’s last circus performance where she’s dressed in a sequined body suit and angel wings. Wenders braids the falling motif in other scenes when it’s mostly coincided with fear and death. When Marion and Damiel finally come together, the film’s desperate vibe is altered with a comforting feeling of balance. It’s best incarnated in their last scene together when Marion is pirouetting in the air while Damiel holding the rope that anchors her to the ground.
Favorite Marion scenes
Dommartin shockingly learned to master the trapeze on her own in only 8 weeks. Wenders didn’t use a stunt double AT ALL. Unfortunately, this promising beauty did not survive our mortal world and died of a heart attack at the age of 45, which was super sad for me to read. She really left an effect on me. I relate to her unique 80’s style of beauty, love her outfits and massive hair. Her scenes are the reason I love Wings of Desire so much. She inspires.