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Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Peter Falk, Otto Sander, Curt Bois ... see more see more... , Hans Martin Stier , Beatrice Manowski , Lajos Kovács , Peter Werner , Paul Busch , Didier Flamand , Olivier Picot , Dirk Vogeley , Mick Harvey , Nick Cave , Blixa Bargeld , Patrick Kreuzer , Ulrike Schirm

Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are angels who watch over the city of Berlin. They don't have harps or wings (well, they usually don't have wings) and they prefer overcoats to gossamer g... read more read more...owns. But they can travel unseen through the city, listening to people's thoughts, watching their actions and studying their lives. While they can make their presence felt in small ways, only children and other angels can see them. They spend their days serenely observing, unable to interact with people, and they feel neither pain nor joy. One day, Damiel finds his way into a circus and sees Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a high-wire artist, practicing her act; he is immediately smitten. After the owners of the circus tell the company that the show is out of money and must disband, Marion sinks into a funk, shuffling back to her trailer to ponder what to do next. As he watches her, Damiel makes a decision: he wants to be human, and he wants to be with Marion, to lift her spirits and, if need be, to share her pain. Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire is a remarkable modern fairy tale about the nature of being alive. The angels witness the gamut of human emotions, and they experience the luxury of simple pleasures (even a cup of coffee and a cigarette) as ones who've never known them. From the angels' viewpoint, Berlin is seen in gorgeous black-and-white -- strikingly beautiful but unreal; when they join the humans, the image shifts to rough but natural-looking color, and the waltz-like grace of the angels' drift through the city changes to a harsher rhythm. Peter Falk appears as himself, revealing a secret that we may not have known about the man who played Columbo, and there's also a brief but powerful appearance by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Wings of Desire hinges on the intangible and elusive, and it builds something beautiful from those qualities. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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46 critics

PG-13, 2 hr. 10 min.

Directed by: Wim Wenders

Release Date: May 17, 1987

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DVD Release Date: July 1, 2003

Stats: 2,291 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (2,291)

  • October 3, 2013
    Dealing with the interconnectedness of the human existence as well as the ethereal quality of dreams and the world of angels, Wim Wenders provides his magnum opus with "Wings of Desire." The film has been lauded for its grasp of different foreign languages, veering from the macab... read morere, and showing the romanticism of the relationship between Damiel and Marion. While a later adaptation dealt primarily with this relationship, "Wings of Desire," at its core, is a film about the experience of being human and not taking it for granted. The world is not shown as being exciting, but instead candid and often beatific. The angels' world is superimposed over the humans', but theirs is a dull gray and white landscape. The humans' is in color and they interact with one another, but in the angels' they can hear the people's thoughts. Oftentimes these thoughts are philosophical and heavy-handed, exactly what a person would think if they were alone. These thoughts are oftentimes sprawling narratives about their lives, their strife and worries about the future. The angels whisper into their ears, picking up their moods by implanting thoughts. One of these angels is named Damiel, who floats around a huge library where other angels nest, and also around the massive city of Berlin. He and his friend Cassiel remark on the virtues of being alive, and all the small things that we never notice in our daily lives. While at a circus Damiel sees a trapeze performer named Marion and follows her around, listening to her dense inner thoughts. She gives these long soliloquies about the state of the world and how she fits into it, which are charming and introspective. Between the amazing visuals, the bleak and yet interesting soliloquies from the people that the angels are listening to, the amazing cinematography, the great performance from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and the bleak Cold War landscape of Berlin, this film is unparalleled in beauty or simplicity. Peter Falk is also a great addition in a strange cameo where he plays himself, with a fictitious background as a fallen angel. Knowing someone is listening to your thoughts may seem terrifying, but when it comes to these guardians and their empathy towards humans, even in their times of need, it's an angelic effort all around.
  • April 6, 2012
    Daniel and Cassiel are two angels who are assigned to watch over the city of Berlin. It is their job to monitor people and take note of all that occurs, and to help out those in need. Daniel (Bruno Ganz) eventually grows tired of this, and decides to give up immortality to become... read more human so that, no only can he experience life to the fullest, but just life in general, including finding love with a profoundly lonely trapeze artist.

    Hollywood bastardized this film as City of Angels with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, but even then, that doesn't take away from the fact that this is one of the most beautiful, poetic, and profoundly moving films ever made. It is, basically, Wim Wenders's masterpiece.

    It is a heavy film, with lots of spiritual and philosophical subtext, but despite being an art film, this deals with things that everyone can relate to, mostly, just trying to escape from an isolated life and make meaningful connections with others. The film is heavily stylized, using both criso momochromatic black and white and bright colors to represent the angelic and human worlds, respectively. The fact that it was also shot in Berlin while the Wall was still up also reinforces the divide between the humans and angels, and it is interesting to see the city from this perspective.

    My only real complaint is that the film is kinda slow, and maybe a bit ponderous here and there, but overall, this is just a marvelous film, and I'm glad I finally saw it because I really feel like it truly is one of the best films ever made.
  • July 15, 2011
    My only criticism of Wings of Desire is that it has people playing themselves. It's a pet hate of mine but I'm really not too bothered as I love Peter Falk and I'm a big Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds & Crime and the city solution fan. I also love Berlin and so I think I was always ... read moregoing to love this film, although, I certainly don't always love Wim Wenders films. For me, he is either great or terrible, this is great though - probably my favourite of his although it is neck and neck with Paris, Texas. Every element of this film is sublime, the script, the imagery - I loved the way it was splashed with colour as the main character got closer to his dream of reality and feeling. This is some an awesome film and so beautifully filmed - a love letter to love almost!
  • fb619846742
    July 6, 2011
    A beautiful, haunting, atmospheric drama concerning two angels (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sandler) who wander amongst the streets of Berlin undetected, and how one of them (Ganz) falls in love with a trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) and starts to ponder about the opportunity of becom... read moreing human in order to be with her. This is simply a stunning piece of work by director Wim Wenders, as he creates a movie so full of life and mystery but is also able to show the flip-side of these moments of excitement by setting it in the bleak, depressed city of Berlin (with the Wall still standing - another layer of dread and sadness added in to the equation). While it is part social commentary on the state of Germany after WW2, it's actually more important a love story, and one that has a lot of weight to it surprisingly. Peter Falk's character is also a rarity - and the man nails it. While the movie really gets interesting in the last half hour, it is still intriguing during its first hour and thirty minutes, as Wenders seamlessly goes between a black-and-white scope with brief instances of color. A definite must-see just for the sheer atmosphere this movie possesses alone. Without question one of the best dramas ever created, with dialogue so rich it is impossible not to be in awe of it.
  • June 25, 2011
    actor peter falk died yesterday, aged 83. in this magical film he plays himself. one thing many fans don't know is that the sketches made by his character in the film were also his own. a genius talent mostly remembered for his role as a rumpled detective: rip lt.columbo :'(
  • June 2, 2011
    In my review of The Lovely Bones, I wrote about the difficulties associated with depicting the afterlife on screen. The select group of films which manage to pull it off take one of two approaches: either they approach the subject in a manner which is fantastical but fleeting, or... read more they characterise the next world as mundanely similar to the one we inhabit now. In Wings of Desire Wim Wenders gives us the best of both worlds, resulting on one of the most touching and moving films of the 1980s.

    Although he only began making documentaries late of his career, Wenders' approach to filmmaking is rooted in key aspects of the documentary tradition. He has the same attitude to people as Lindsay Anderson or Krzysztof Kieslowski: in depicting and recording their actions, he is completely understated and entirely respectful of people as they are. There is a further similarity to the British New Wave in his impressionistic use of voiceover. Not everything that is spoken is subtitled or attributed to a given individual, as in Anderson's short film Every Day Except Christmas, which looks at Covent Garden flower market.

    As with the British New Wave, or more recently Terence Davies, Wings of Desire is a film which understands the level of gravitas which can be achieved through shooting in black-and-white. The film is shot by Henri Alekan, who also shot Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bęte. There is none of the mystical manipulation of shadows from that film, but the film picks up on every wrinkle and slight smile on the actors' faces. The evocative and deeply elegiac visuals were achieved by rather unusual methods; Alekan draped an antique silk stocking over the camera to act as a peculiar filter.

    The central idea of Wings of Desire is that of angels wanting to be human. Damiel, played beautifully by Bruno Ganz, spends the film yearning to experience mortality - not as a path towards death, but as the physical sensation of being. He has long speeches in which he lists actions which seem trivial or odd to us as if they were the most valuable commodities in the universe. His love and affection for humanity is matched only by his desire to understand it, and becoming human is a way of manifesting or achieving both.

    In this intriguing premise, Wings of Desire takes a very interesting position on spirituality. In the first instance, it inverts or subverts people's impressions of heaven. The traditional worldview, upheld by much of Christianity, is that life is full of hardship and suffering, but when we get to heaven all such suffering will be allayed and we will understand what life was all about.

    But in the black-and-white world which they inhabit, it is the angels who are suffering or cursed, as they stand frustrated by their shadowy essence and perplexed as they attempt to unravel human existence. The people, meanwhile, while not permanently ecstatic or without worry, are more or less content within themselves. They have contentment even if they cannot explain or vocalise it - or if, in the case of the trapeze artist, contentment is to be found in loneliness.

    Following in the tradition of A Matter of Life and Death, Wenders shoots the scenes involving the angels in black-and-white while keeping the rest of the world in colour. In a subversion of 1 Corinthians, the angels' view of life is like a "poor reflection" of what life really is, and their striving towards reality is played out on one level like a detective story. Early on there is a scene of Damiel and Cassiel sitting in a car swapping notes like detectives on a stakeout. They invoke Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler's protagonist) and list random observations which seem completely unconnected, like clues in a case which seems impossible to solve.

    There is a further echo of this in the role of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Near the beginning of the film the trapeze artist plays an LP of 'The Carny', which is followed by a performance in black-and-white by fictional band Crime and the City, whose singer writhes around like a young Nick Cave. Towards the end, the Bad Seeds themselves turn up in colour with Nick Cave singing in full voice. Guitarist Mick Harvey appears in both line-ups, reinforcing the theme of poor reflections. In an unusual blend of Christianity and humanism, we hear reality at the expense of seeing it, then we see the imitation as seen by the angels, and when Damiel is made human, we arrive at reality with all of our senses.

    A related aspect of the relationship between the earthly and the ethereal is found in Peter Falk's character, an actor playing an investigator in the film-within-a-film. Aside from his improvised conversations on the movie set, and his various 'private' thoughts about the part, Falk gets a couple of scenes at diners where Bruno Ganz is in attendance. On both occasions Falk uses the line, "I can't see you but I know you're there", and Ganz gives a slight, welcoming smile.

    There are three possible interpretations of these scenes. The first is that it is all coincidence; Falk is simply rehearsing a line and Ganz just happened to be there and think he was referring to him, as when someone remarks about seeing an angel at the circus. The second is that he really can see Ganz and is 'in on the joke', being a former angel himself: we don't know enough about him to rule this out, but there's not much evidence for this either. The third, and most poignant, is that Falk isn't sure whether or not someone is there - but he wants there to be; the possibility reassures him and brings a sense of peace.

    This last point hints to the second spiritual dimension of Wings of Desire, namely the role of angels and whether or not God actively intervenes in humanity. Instead of being active agents of God, the angels are there as observers to document humanity - hence why so much of their time is spend in libraries, soaking up the wisdom which Men have accumulated. They cannot stop death or heal the sick, and their actions do not always lead to positive outcomes. When Cassiel lays his hands on a man, the man's next action is to jump off a ledge, and both he and Damiel are tormented at being able to hear people's thoughts and do nothing to change them.

    But as with Falk's character, the people in Wings of Desire ultimately find solace in the knowledge that there are forces watching over them. There is a recurring image of the angels placing hands on people - not to heal or comfort, but just to acknowledge the person's presence and that they matter in the eyes of God. Even if the Almighty isn't constantly making Himself known, His presence is a force which sustains us - it makes us feel good to be alive, even if we cannot explain why.

    The romance between Damiel and Marion is a beautiful counterpoint which ties all these elements together. There is the mutual irony of their predicaments: one is an angel who longs for earth, the other a performer whose profession sends her heavenward but for whom heaven is always out of reach. The scene where they meet in the bar and fall in love finds the two players meeting in the middle and sharing both worlds in a love that will last beyond the boundaries of this life. The dialogue, although rambling, has a real poetry to it which brings a sense of grandeur to what could be a very trite encounter.

    Wings of Desire is a beautiful, profound and deeply affecting film which remains one of the best films of the 1980s and a high point in Wenders' career. It is too long, with a very rambling structure, and the dialogue can sometimes be too artsy-fartsy for its own good. But those are miniscule flaws which are easily overlooked, in view of what remains an overwhelming experience.
  • April 5, 2011
    A deeply personal and exhaustive rumination on what it means to be human. While this idea would be lifted for the American disaster City of Angels, this film actually has something to offer the viewer besides the satisfaction of seeing Meg Ryan get plowed by a semi. Not only does... read more Wender's camera gorgeously glide around the city and the people who inhabit it in a manner that gives the viewer their own celestial insight into our world, he also builds a sort of human poetry by layering the inner monologues of the German people. Bruno Ganz is excellent as usual as an angel who just longs to feel even though he understands the anguish that comes along with being human.
    The film is also an important historical source. As Ganz paces around the viewer gets a glimpse of a Berlin divided. Not only is it still reeling from the Second World War and subsequent Cold War, we get to see shots of the Berlin wall. Wender even risked getting footage of East Berlin which he had to do from inside his van a la Alfred Hitchcock. Due to it's meager pace, I do not believe that it is a film I will revisit frequently. However, this film has a lot to offer and is a great piece of German cinema.
  • March 19, 2011
    as much a cinematic poem as a story, the film was masterfully shot and the mental monologues were beautiful. ganz and falk were especially good in their roles, and to see the mastery of this film and the futility of the american remake is further evidence that people need to see... read more this amazing movie.
  • February 25, 2011
    Interesting plot line but it seems to dwardle along with no care in the world. By the end I did feel for Damiel and wanted him to be happy. The scene with Marion and Damiel near the end is simply mesmirising. One of the best scenes I have seen in a long time. Their passion and de... read moresire can truely be seen. It's difficult to watch but worth it in the end.
  • February 18, 2011
    A bit redundant, but visually enthralling.

Critic Reviews

Joe Morgenstern
November 27, 2012
Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal

A fantasy that... goes right in spite of its solemn style. Full Review

David Stratton
November 27, 2012
David Stratton, Variety

A sublimely beautiful, deeply romantic film for our times. Full Review

Jonathan Rosenbaum
July 9, 2007
Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Wings of Desire is one of Wenders's most stunning achievements. Full Review

Geoff Andrew
January 26, 2006
Geoff Andrew, Time Out

Few films are so rich, so intriguing, or so ambitious. Full Review

Douglas Pratt
August 5, 2003
Douglas Pratt, Hollywood Reporter

One of the few truly great movies to come out of the '80s.

Janet Maslin
May 20, 2003
Janet Maslin, New York Times

Startlingly original at first, Wings of Desire is in the end damagingly overloaded. Full Review

Roger Ebert
January 1, 2000
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The film evokes a mood of reverie, elegy and meditation. Full Review

Rita Kempley
January 1, 2000
Rita Kempley, Washington Post

Underneath its melancholia and mind-boggling, even bothersome metaphysics, it's the simplest (well, almost) story ever told -- angel meets girl, angel gets girl. Full Review

Desson Thomson
January 1, 2000
Desson Thomson, Washington Post

a soaring vision that appeals to the senses and the spirit Full Review

Jonathan Baumbach
November 27, 2012
Jonathan Baumbach, The Nation

Wings of Desire has an ingenuousness, a sweetness of spirit, that triumphs over the conventional rigidities of its calculation. Full Review

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    • Homer: My heroes are no longer the warriors and kings.. but the things of peace, one equal to the other. The drying onions equal to the tree trunk crossing the marsh. But no one has so far succeeded in singing an epic of peace. What is wrong with peace that its inspiration doesn't endure.. and that its story is hardly told?
    • Damiel: When the child was a child, it was the time for these questions: Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end?
    • Damiel: Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end?
    • Marion: Last night... I dreamt of a stranger... of my man. Only with him could I be alone... open up to him... wholly open, wholly for him. Welcome him wholly into me... surround him with the labyrinth... of shared happiness. I know... it's you.
    • Marion: You need me. You will need me. There's no greater story than ours... that of man and woman. It will be a story of giants... invisible... transposable... a story of new ancestors. Look. My eyes... they are the picture of necessity... of the future of everyone in the place.
    • Marion: We are now the times. Not only the whole town... the whole world is taking part in our decision. We two are now more than us two. We incarnate something. We're representing the people now... And the whole place is full of those... who are dreaming the same dream. We are deciding everyone's game. I am ready. Now... it's your turn. You hold the game in your hand. Now... or never.

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Wings of Desire Trivia

  • What is the name of the movie that "City of angels" is a remake of?  Answer »
  • What German movie was City of Angels based on?  Answer »
  • In which movie did Peter Falk appears as a former angel?  Answer »
  • What original movie took place in Berlin that Peter Falk was in, and later remade into City of Angels?   Answer »

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