Saturday, November 28, 2009

DER HIMMEL ÜBER BERLIN (Wim Wenders, 1987, Germany) Damiel’s fall separates him from Grace like the barbed-wire serpent that divides Berlin, his brief life now written like graffiti upon the cold concrete of this silent sentinel. Director Wim Wenders creates a visual poem concerning the dichotomy of life: the joys and sorrows, the sufferings and laughter, the sublime pleasures and the stark reality of its sputtering end. This temporary beauty is realized from an objective position, as Damiel and Cassiel are angels who preserve the tiny mysteries and emotional toils of Berlin’s people, eternally documenting but never able to experience them, removed from the sense of touch or warm breath of sleep, a monochrome existence that is mostly impotent to change the world, like a vapor drifting endlessly through the sky. These angels collect history and safeguard it from the dark night of forgetfulness: to speak of it and keep it forever alive, even the elemental age before mankind descended from its primitive ancestry. But Damiel becomes fascinated with a lonely woman, her thoughts a jumble of emotion and fear, a forlorn smile through a glass darkly towards an unknown destination. And he wishes to become fragile flesh and bone, to meet her and suffer hope without prescience. He surprisingly meets another who embraced this mortal coil, a deft cameo by Peter Faulk who plays himself, working in Berlin to film a WWII action flick. Wenders layers the film with overlapping narration, random thoughts and reflections as the angels listen into private worlds: soothing a dying man or a gentle touch upon a brow to ease a grievous burden. Berlin becomes the allegory, split like heaven and hell, its inhabitants separated like angels and mortals. Wenders’ camera is like a ghost, flying above the city or walking through walls, turning slowly and spinning in small apartments, caressing the narrative with feathery wings, and sometimes floating into sharp close-up to examine the embattled terrain of a stoic visage. Damiel makes his decision in purgatory, the No Man’s Land between East and West, and has only his tattered clothes and bronze armor to begin anew. The film abruptly changes to quixotic oversaturated colors when seen subjectively from a human perspective, and here his camera remains rooted upon terra firma. Damiel’s obsession Marion struggles against the bondage of gravity, a trapeze artist who finally loses her wings too…but retains her angelic humanity. (A)

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