Wings of Ilusion

Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire is a 1987 film by the German director Wim Wenders. Its original German title is Der Himmel über Berlin, which can be translated as The Heaven (or Sky) over Berlin. Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry partially inspired the movie; Wenders claimed angels seemed to dwell in Rilke's poetry. The director also employed Peter Handke, who wrote much of the dialogue, the poetic narrations, and the film's recurring poem "Song of Childhood."

...When the child was a child, it didn’t know that it was a child, everything was soulful, and all souls were one.


Set in West Berlin in the late 1980s, toward the end of the Cold War, it follows two angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), as they roam the city, unseen and unheard by the people, observing and listening to the diverse thoughts of Berliners: a pregnant woman, a painter, a broken man who thinks his girlfriend no longer loves him. Their raison d'être is not that of the stereotypical angel, but as Cassiel says, to "assemble, testify, preserve" reality. In addition to the story of two angels, the film also is a meditation on Berlin's past, present, and future. Damiel and Cassiel have always existed as angels; they existed in Berlin before it was a city, and in fact before there were even any humans.

Among the Berliners they encounter in their meanderings is an old man named Homer (Curt Bois), who, unlike the Greek poet of war Homer, dreams of an "epic of peace". The angel Cassiel follows the old man as he looks for the then-demolished Potsdamer Platz in an open field, where all he finds is the graffiti-covered Berlin Wall.

Although Damiel and Cassiel are pure observers, invisible to all but children, and incapable of any physical interaction with our world, one of the angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), begins to fall in love with a circus trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin), who is talented, lovely, but profoundly lonely. Marion lives alone in a trailer, dances alone to the music of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and drifts through the city.

A subpart of the film follows Peter Falk, cast as himself, who has arrived in Berlin to make a film about Berlin's Nazi past. As the movie progresses, it turns out that Peter Falk was also once an angel, who renounced his immortality to become a mortal participant in the world after he grew tired of always observing and never experiencing.

Eventually, Damiel too longs for physicality, and to become human. When he sheds his immortal existence, he experiences life for the first time: he bleeds, sees colors for the first time (the movie before then is filmed in a sepia tinted monochrome, except for brief moments when the angels are not present), tastes food, drinks coffee. Meanwhile, Cassiel inadvertently taps into the mind of a young man just before he commits suicide by jumping off a building; Cassiel tries to save the young man but is unable to do so, and he is left haunted and tormented by the experience. Eventually Damiel meets the trapeze artist Marion at a bar, and they greet each other with familiarity as if they had long known each other. In the end, Damiel is united with the woman he had desired for so long.

The story is continued in Wenders' 1993 sequel, In weiter Ferne, so nah! (Faraway, So Close!.)

Deleted scenes

As revealed in the DVD, Wings of Desire could have turned out to be a far less serious film. Cut scenes from the beginning of the movie had Cassiel humorously mimicking the humans' actions. Other cut scenes were experiments of how to show the angel's invisibility/lack of physical form using double exposure. There was also a female angel who was cut from the movie, appearing only during a pan-shot in the library scene. The end was much different from the final cut -- it was originally to have Cassiel turn human as well, and finding Damiel and Marion at the bar where they engage in a pie fight.


The movie was made with a minimal script; it is a mood piece exploring people, the city, and a concept: a longing for and love of life, existence, reality. Peter Falk wasn't meant to be a sketch artist until Wenders discovered Falk's talent. Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander were cast because they were old friends, who had known each other for decades; they played angels who had been together through eternity. Solveig Dommartin was Wenders' actress girlfriend; although the circus part required extensive and risky acrobatics, she was able to learn the trapeze and rope moves in only eight weeks, and did all the work herself, with no stunt doubles.


The movie, shot by cinematographer Henri Alekan at the age of 77, who famously worked on Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête, shows the angels' sepia-tinted monochromatic point of view and switches to color to show the human beings' point of view. During filming Alekan used a unique, very old and fragile silk stocking that belonged to his grandmother as a filter for the monochromatic sequences.

The shift from monochrome to color, to distinguish the angels' reality from the mortals', was first used in A Matter of Life and Death by Powell & Pressburger in 1946.


The film won the prize for Best Direction at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.


In 1998 an American remake called City of Angels was made. The setting was Los Angeles and starred Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage. Aside from the basic premise of angels watching humans (with the opening scene also taking place in a landmark library) and a love story the 1998 film bears little relation to the original.

Theatrical adaptation

The first theatre adaptation of Wings of Desire was created by the Northern Stage theatre company in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK in 2003. This particular adaptation (which entailed film footage of the city and stories from the community) was then re-created at Bette Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen in 2005.

In 2006, the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Toneelgroep Amsterdam presented a stage adaptation of the movie, created by Gideon Lester and Dirkje Houtman and directed by Ola Mafaalani.


External links

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