Wings of Desire

 

 

one of the most beautiful, moving, poetic films I have ever seen is Wings of Desire..

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i mean the original Wim Wenders version in German with subtitles  (German title literally translates as Wings over Berlin), with a script chiefly written by the brilliant and controversial Austrian writer Peter Handke. Not the hideous American remake starring the Nicholas Cage as an angel and dandelion haired Meg Ryan as a brain surgeon.

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wings of Desire is one of those exquisite films you can see over and over, but not often for it is very potent.

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everything about it is beautiful;The idea, for a start.

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it is the story of two angels, Damiel (played by the sublimely perfect Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (played by Otto Sander) who hover over and move about Berlin outside time, witnessing all thoughts that occur to humans. They live in a parallel black and white world, and are unable to feel or be seen or felt by humans. Then Damiel falls in love with a beautiful tightrope walker.

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made just before the wall came down, the theme of  divided worlds permeates the film on many levels. It exploits the tension between the overlapping states of angel and human, but Wenders’ angelic realm does not conform to traditional ideas of angels.

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 having carefully watched human beings from the beginning of time, the two angels know humanity better than we know ourselves. But while their realm overlaps ours and they can read the thoughts of humans, there remains a barrier experienced as such by both sides. We cannot see angels, or speak with them but they do not know what life feels like. Their world is in black and white, and they can never really touch things. Being angels that transcend time, they cannot know time either. They cannot know its human meaning.

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 unless they fall …

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falling is a powerful theme running through the film. We see it in the angel’s potential to Fall, Dameil falls in love with Marion, Cassiel tries to experience falling with a man who commits suicide by jumping from a building, we see a stunt fall in a movie and of course, Marion risks falling as a high wire trapeze artist.

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 “the angels’ curiosity about the true lives of men leads to desire. Their lack of real life, of the tragic feel of life, eventually leads some of them to want to shake off their eternity and join man in his time-bound state. The desire of the angels to fall is Wenders’ brilliant twist. Not to fall like Lucifer, by a denial of God, but to fall through a need for human warmth, through a curiosity or empathy for human life.

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 “the angels, in their perfection, can fall in love with man, with his compelling imperfection.”

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  (this is culled from a brilliant essay by Eric Mader-Lin which is WELL worth reading in its entirety as a meditation on many things as well as on this film. If you would like to read it, activate the link.)

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 having fallen in love with trapeze artist Marion, Damiel resolves to Fall, to join time; to taste the fruit of mortal knowledge – knowledge of mortality.

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heading off to Prague Book Fair, I move through the crowd as I always move through people here; as an alien and an outsider. As I and those about me wait for the fair to open officially, I study other people and wonder what they are thinking.  Like me, most seem to be alone,  perhaps because it is a weekday morning.  I find myself wondering what thoughts I would hear, if I could put my head gently against the heads of these strangers and tap into their inner voices – their monologues to themselves, the continuous song of their spirits in the midst of life on the way to death.

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i do not imagine myself as an angel longing for life as Damiel in Wings of Desire, but as an older, removed and invisible witness; implacable, loving. encompassing all the extremes of humanity without judgment, coolly gentle,  acceptant.

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here are some of the things my imagination witnessed, when I was an Armani clad winged angel.

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  …i don’t know why I can’t just be satisfied with what I have. Why do I always feel like I missed out.  Like life is happening elsewhere. Why do I never feel like I am at the centre of anything…

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…I am supposed to feel as if I am in control, but I don’t. I can’t let anyone know that. I have to seem in control, even when I am not. But sometimes I wish I could just let go and be whatever I feel…

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…why does he always look away when I look at him. He is my son.  Is he ashamed to face me?  What could he have done that is so shameful…

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 …i wish I did not feel so tired. Maybe that is why I feel so angry with them all, with how they just stand back and let me do everything without noticing or caring. I have a job like he does, I have homework and I am supposed to be a mother and a wife.  Sometimes I feel as if I am trapped inside my head screaming and screaming to get out. Maybe if I just walked in the park more.  Somewhere things are green. I could lie down and watch spiders drift on lines of silk…

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…sometimes I miss her so much. Even after all this time, I just want to look up and see her tilt her head and smile a question at me.  She was always so gentle. How can I bear the loss of that gentleness. The world feels so hard without her to soften it…

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i love the way the light stripes down and touches them where it wants, caring nothing for them but making them beautiful. Without it they seem so ugly to me. Why are they here?  It’s my job to be here, to take photographs.  The camera is the only thing that keeps me sane.  How did I turn out like this.  I used to like people once, didn’t I?  I mean, you don’t start out hating …

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 …i wish I could just discipline myself better and do what I want to do. I keep doing what I think I am supposed to do. I don’t want to live my whole life tripping myself up.  I am my own captive.  I am my own slave. Can there be anything stupider than putting yourself in a prison…

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 …if just once, she would ask me about myself. If he would ask what I think or how I feel about something. No one knows or cares what is inside me. They look at me and see a conventional middle aged woman they cannot imagine having interesting thoughts. They have no idea of the strangeness and richness hidden in me…

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 …i feel so anxious all the time.  I wish I would just stop worrying.  It doesn’t help. Look at me, now I am worrying about worrying…

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…she does not like me. But she does not think of me as human. Even her dislike is only the sort of irritation you feel for inanimate things that will not do what you want…

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 …i will have to take him to the vet tonight.  I am so afraid.  And the worst happens, I will not be able to bear it.  I feel such deep sorrow at the thought of losing him. I would never have imagined I could feel so much for a dog. I love him better than my children. My wife would say, Of course, if I told her. Will she be sad? We bought him together, after all…

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 …but how does she expect me to act now?  I don’t know what to say to her. Why do people have to burden you with their secrets…

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… i feel so happy I feel it will split me at the seams. Light will blaze out of me.  I wish I could tell them all, but they would not understand how a person my age can fall so irrevocably, hopelessly in love.  And be loved back like that. How it would shock them. I must keep it hidden.  Except when I am with her…

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 …what drives me mad is how she always cooks something that smells bad.  I come home to caulifower or brussel sprouts.  Never garlic and onions, never buttery mushrooms. I will leave her, but I will have to find another reason.  No one leaves their wife because of the smell of their cooking. I mustn’t make myself a fool…

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…i wish I could just go back ten years in physical fitness.  I would not mind keeping the lines and all the signs of age so long as I had the vitality I had ten years ago.It’s not like I am old, but I don’t have what I once had…

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 …i wish I had a tail.  Or wings.  Imagine how people would stare and wonder, and I would act like it is perfectly normal, because it would be normal for me …

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 …there is something wrong with her, I’m sure of it.  Something in her eyes when she asked for water.  An anger.  She was so brittle. I would not be surprised if she makes a scene…

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…i have such a desire to just be immersed in water. I would lie on my back and float. I would close my eyes and be held so lightly and gently. It would be how God would hold me, if only I could believe in him. I would feel the sun on my eyelids…

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…i have to tell her I know she is having an affair. I wish I could find some way to say it that would not sound like an accusation. I don’t want to accuse her.  I am not even angry.  But if she knew this, it would hurt her. I must make her feel she has hurt me, instead. I want to help her…

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…when I was a child, I wanted to be a scientist.  I was so curious about everything.  I was always asking questions. Once an aunt slapped me to make me stop. She said it made her head hurt to have me asking her this and that.  But I wasn’t really asking.  I was thinking aloud…

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 …i really like watching squirrels.  No one understands why I get so much pleasure out it.  It is the mischief in their faces. The way they move- that twitchy gliding. I always sit very still. I long for them to come and run over me as if I am a tree…

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 …i hate the person walking in front of me so slowly, meandering to the left and right as if deliberately blocking my way.  Or couples that hold hands and stretch out the space between them as if to bar the way. Absurd to take it personally, but some days everything feels inimical.  I brush my teeth and feel such a weariness remembering all the times I have brushed my teeth before. Isn’t it finally enough, I think…

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 …did that woman take a picture of me? Maybe she is just looking at what is in the camera. How everything changes. It’s like people walking in the street and on the trams talking to themselves. That used to be a sign that someone was losing it, but now they could be talking on the phone with a tiny blue tooth earpiece hidden under their hair. I could just talk out loud to myself right now, and people would think I was talking on the phone . Only I would have to wear my hair differently …

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…sometimes in the night I like to open the window of my apartment and lean out and look down into the street with no one in it. Silence, but for a car going by now and then on the road that passes the end of the street. I could almost imagine they are empty, too.  Cars, roaming at night, when their owners sleep…

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…i forget so much. It is like my life is emptying out of me…

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…i will leave him…

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…i am tired of being angry about politicians. Once they were ashamed to lie.  They pretended to tell the truth but now they just lie and lie and don’t care who knows it.  We have no power to change it.  How did we end up so powerless…

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…i want to feel something. There must be more than this. I need to feel something. Even despair would be better than numbness…

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…there was that song my grandmother used to sing. I loved it so much.  I wish I could remember the words.  Something about angels and flying.  Something …

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…sometimes I hear someone whispering my name. or feel a hand touch me lightly, but when I turn, there is no one.  Or maybe there is a flash of light or a falling feather you see from the corner of your eye…

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…apologies to all of these strangers whose faces I have stolen, but it is only a moment of an imaginary life I have given to each of you. And that is what writers do. We steal your faces for our dreams, for the endless inner story we tell ourselves.

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…because when we write, we can appropriate anything – even the wings  of angels…

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5 Responses

    1. Lovely Isobelle – except for the second photo which didn’t work. Did you tell them you were using their faces?
      i must see the film – maybe Tohby Riddell was inspired by it for his Unforgotten? That’s about invisible angels becoming visible – roughly…
      i can see this is what you do all the time – put thoughts into people’s heads, then give them back to us as characters. Fiction is thinking the thoughts of another – the author – but also the author thinking the thoughts of her characters.

      • I wondered about the legality of using people’s faces, Virginia, but I felt there would be no problem since they were all Czechs and unlikely to rad my blog plus I was not selling anything and it was clearly part of a creative piece, and not slandering them in any way. I mean, people get captured in the background of other people’s pictures all the time. But next time, I might use the faces of people I know and ask them, but take the pics first. Regarding the photo that will not load, it seems to be the third picture that does not load when you go into lightbox mode- can you see it on the actual blog, though? It does not load for me either but I can see it on the blog.

    2. Marta says:

      I love the moments you’ve immortalised both with your camera and your words. You’ve found poetry in these ordinary people’s thoughts.

      I notice you didn’t write an accompaniment for your final photo, though. To me, it looks like you’re rejoicing at another beautiful winter’s day, with snow on the ground and ice in the sky, but you don’t feel a bit of it, warmed as you are by the beauty you find in your imagination. And you’re inviting us to come and find that same joy too, with you.

      … I’m so happy you can be here to live this day with me. Come, will you follow me? Will you share in my dreams? …

      (On technical matters, the third photo doesn’t appear for me.)

    3. Lovely. Poetic. Inspiring.

      “We steal your faces for our dreams, for the endless inner story we tell ourselves.”

      Beautiful!

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