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Damiel is a lonely angel who roams the streets of Berlin providing comfort to mortals in need. But when he is drawn into the life of a beautiful – and troubled – trapeze artist, he experiences love for the first time and does everything in his power to be seen, heard and felt by her. Jeopardizing his divine position, Damiel is faced with a most difficult decision: either give up love…or lose his eternal wings forever!

Wim Wenders
Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois, Peter Falk
Writing Credits:
Peter Handke, Wim Wenders

There are angels on the streets of Berlin.
Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
German/English Dolby Digital 5.1
German/English Dolby Surround
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 128 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 7/1/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director Wim Wenders and Actor Peter Falk
• “Angels Among Us” Documentary
• Interactive Map
• Deleted Scenes with Director’s Commentary
• Original Advertising Artwork
• Trailers

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Wings of Desire (1987)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 30, 2003)

Apparently I was destined to work my way backwards to 1987’s Wings of Desire. My first exposure to the tale came from its 1998 American remake, City of Angels. I then watched the sequel to Wings, 1993’s Faraway! (So Close) back in 2000.

With the DVD release of Desire, I finally gave it a look. A loosely plotted flick, Desire focuses on the observations of angels. It posits that they watch as during daily life, and one of them – Damiel (Bruno Ganz) – starts to wish he could experience humanity first hand. He interacts with fellow angel Cassiel (Otto Sander) and he also moons over sexy trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin). She’s worried, depressed and lonely.

In addition, Damiel visits a movie set where Peter Falk (himself) stars in a World War II drama. Falk senses the presence of angels but can’t see them. This leads to an interesting revelation later in the film.

This synopsis probably sounds vague, which occurs for a good reason: Desire doesn’t focus much on plot. Occasionally it spilled over into the story items I discussed, but those popped up erratically. The movie felt more like a tone poem of sorts, as it displayed lovely imagery and presented an intriguing attitude but didn’t concentrate on story issues.

That made Desire a bit of a grind to watch at times, and I also found it virtually impossible not to compare it to City of Angels. As my review reflects, I thought the latter seemed surprisingly solid; it shouldn’t have been my cup of tea, but I really liked it.

When I compared the two, Desire appeared both more ambiguous and more explicit. To be sure, Angels focused much more heavily on plot. It followed a formal structure and told a real tale, whereas Desire took a significantly looser path.

It also was substantially more slow paced than Angels. Desire spent a lot of time as it depicted the observations of the angels among humans. While this demonstrated some lovely and lyrical imagery throughout the movie, it also made the action frustratingly slow moving. The structure was so loose that it often felt like the movie really didn’t go anywhere.

Wings of Desire essentially concentrated on general mood and atmosphere more than story, which I think made it a “love it or hate it” kind of flick. Actually, I can’t say that I fell into either category. The visual elements created some intriguing elements, but the vagueness and absence of much development kept me from getting involved in the tale. Generally bleaker and less explicit than City of Angels, it also simply seemed less entertaining as well.

Footnote: I should indicate that Angels and Desire really aren’t all that similar. The former concentrates much more heavily on the development of its characters and their interactions. Desire stays in the realm of the visual and atmospheric and doesn’t give nearly the same level of concrete material. Angels takes some elements directly from Desire, like the former angel who aids in Damiel’s transition. For the most part, though, Angels feels more like a thematic adaptation of Desire than a formal remake.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B- / Bonus B+

Wings of Desire appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For the most part, the picture seemed very solid.

Sharpness consistently looked fine. No problems with softness cropped up during the film. Instead, it came across as tight and well defined. Although I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, a smidgen of edge enhancement appeared on a few occasions. Some stylized grain showed up periodically, and I also saw a few specks, but the movie mostly seemed clean and free from source issues.

Most of Desire was in black and white. It went to color only in scenes without angels present and filled little of the film’s running time. The hues were somewhat subdued, which made sense given the restrained nature of the movie, and they looked accurate and smooth. The black and white imagery was very good. Contrast seemed solid, as those scenes featured a nicely silver presentation. Blacks appeared deep and dense, and shadows came across as concise and nicely delineated. The minor concerns knocked down my grade to a “B+”, but I remained generally very pleased with the appearance of Wings of Desire.

Though not listed on the DVD’s case, Wings of Desire included a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. (The packing only listed a 2.0 mix). The soundfield remained generally subdued. The front spectrum featured most of the audio and mainly displayed general ambience. Scenes with lots of voices enjoyed good localization and melding. Music demonstrated decent stereo delineation, which the surrounds reinforced acceptably. A few effects featured some nice movement, such as one with a helicopter, but they mostly stayed with light ambience. The surrounds echoed the front and didn’t do much more than contribute to the atmosphere.

The quality of the audio appeared good. Speech came across as natural and distinct, and I noticed no issues related to intelligibility or edginess. Music seemed restrained but full, with clear highs and acceptably rich lows. Effects seemed clean and accurate and also demonstrated decent dynamics. There wasn’t much to this track, but it appeared fine for this sort of material.

This DVD release of Wings of Desire packs a nice set of extras. We open with an audio commentary from director Wim Wenders and actor Peter Falk, both of whom sat together for their running, screen-specific piece – I think. Falk popped up very infrequently, and it often sounded like Wenders was there alone. Falk occasionally made a comment about his role, especially in regard to the absence of a script, but he didn’t tell us much.

Happily, Wenders filled the rest of the time fairly nicely. He covered the origins of the film and related why we made the flick. Wenders also discussed the general looseness of the virtually script-free production, visual elements, and other notes like his thwarted attempt to shoot in East Berlin. The commentary lagged at times and occasionally seemed somewhat somnambulant, but Wenders still helped educate us reasonably well about his movie.

Next we find a new documentary called Angels Among Us. This 43-minute and 14-second piece includes the usual mix of movie clips and interviews. We get remarks from Wenders, writer Peter Handke, actors Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, and Peter Falk, composer Jurgen Kneiper, and City of Angels director Brad Silberling. They offer a pretty solid general overview of the production. We get notes about its origins and the loose script as well as the characters, casting, visual look of the film, various anecdotes, the score, the flick’s legacy, and other elements. It moves at a good pace and goes over all the appropriate topics in a logical and concise manner. “Angels” provides a very nice examination of Desire

An Interactive Map follows this program. It takes us through a variety of locations and includes short video clips and details about these places. We get information about the “Library” (26 seconds), “The Wall” (40 seconds), “Potsdamer Platz” (60 seconds), “Church” (30 seconds), “Column” (44 seconds), “Station” (29 seconds), and “Bunker” (two minutes, 20 seconds). Though this section desperately needs a “Play All” option, these segments still seem reasonably informative and useful.

The Original Advertising Artwork section simply presents two posters in stillframe format. Potentially more compelling is the Deleted Scenes area. All told, we get 32 minutes and seven seconds of these snippets, totally accompanied by commentary from Wenders. In an unusual touch, you can’t watch the scenes without Wenders’ remarks; there’s almost no background audio other than score.. This makes the clips somewhat less useful, but most of them seem like general impressionistic images anyway, so the absence of audio causes no problems. A few of the clips actually fall more into the “outtake” category anyway.

We find things like some clowning from Sander, shots of a rare female angel, and many other snippets. None of these seem very interesting as they consist of little more than basic imagery without anything more substantial to them. Wenders contributes some decent anecdotes from the production but since the scenes don’t deal with plot for the most part, he doesn’t tell us a lot about their potential integration into the film. Heck, even the director seems to get a little tired of the never-ending outtakes after a while, though he does challenge viewers to create their own new cut of the movie with some of them reintegrated.

Lastly, the DVD includes a mix of ads. We get both German and US trailers. Oddly, the latter refers to “the angel Damien”, not Damiel. It also essentially gives away the end of the movie. The Wim Wenders Promo seems to take a comic bent – the director holds a sign that reads “Wen Wunderts!” - but since it doesn’t translate the German, it makes no sense to me. More Great MGM Releases simply shows the covers to some DVDs that hit the shelves around the same time as Desire.

Visually terrific but without much else at work, Wings of Desire scores some points because it doesn’t beat the viewer over the head with its themes or ideas. However, it goes a little too far in the opposite direction and fails to produce much more than lovely imagery. The DVD provides very good picture quality, low-key but acceptable sound, and a nice package of supplements. This fine DVD will make those who love Desire very happy, although it may not create many new fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3666 Stars Number of Votes: 30
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