I wonder if angels really do live among us? That’s the premise of this ethereal romantic fantasy directed by Wim Wenders and set in pre-unification Berlin. Henri Alekan famously filmed with an old silk stocking covering the lens to give a sepia tone to the black and white of the angels world.
The angels are pre -history and immortal, their role is to observe and record. They move around the city watching, listening and comparing notes, bringing comfort to those in distress. The pacing is languorous and meditative, picking up snatches of conversations and thoughts as if we’re listening to a radio being tuned, but the roving aerial and ground level shots show a desolate city bound by the wall. A hard edge that’s mirrored by the lyrical, poetic dialogue and the post punk Nick Cave music.
The film follows two angels Damiel (Bruno Gantz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander). They spend time at the Berlin State library, they follow an elderly man, a victim of the holocaust as he tries to find an old address and they hang out on a film set where the film star is Peter Falk playing himself! A mood of sadness and isolation runs through a lot of the lives we catch glimpses of and while the angels can comfort they can’t change history nor can they participate. They’re invisible to adults, they can’t feel emotionally or physically, they live in a monochrome world – is this enough for them?
When Damiel sees Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a trapeze artist at the circus this question gets harder to answer. We get to see Marion when Damiel isn’t watching her and the screen becomes saturated in colour, the colours of warmth and emotion. As he falls in love he asks would this be worth giving up immortality for?
Wim Wenders has said that he was inspired by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, Der Himmel über Berlin/ The Heaven Over Berlin (the original title) has inspired me to explore his poetry and to watch La Belle et la Bête, (John Cocteau, 1946) where Henri Alekan was also the cinematographer.