Angels are man’s and the movies’ way of dealing with the idea of God. They look like us, for one thing, so a casting call isn’t out of the question. For another, they allow directors to answer our prayers under the guise of eternal truths.
Eastern Europe in the late ’80s, conversely, was hardly complacent, which may be why Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire remains the richest, most thought-provoking take on angels to date. Set in West Berlin just before the Wall came crumbling down and punchy with the notion of unexpected grace, Wings envisions God’s hosts as solemn, black-clad figures Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), who hover over humans’ shoulders, listen in on their thoughts, and provide temporary, invisible solace. The melancholy they feel as they soak up our little miseries paradoxically gives the film a great, sad joy. When Damiel falls in love with a trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin) and sheds his wings for life on earth, you sense exactly what he has gained and lost. Unfortunately, Wenders’ 1993 sequel, Far Away, So Close!, isn’t nearly as divine. Despite the stunt casting of everyone from Lou Reed to Mikhail Gorbachev, the historic moment has passed, leaving only echoes of the first film’s rapture. C+