A heavenly aerial view over a black-and-white Berlin begins the restored Wings of Desire, Wim Wenders’ impossibly poignant 1987 study of angels among us. The shot was achieved before drones made such shots so commonplace. But then, a lot about this indelible film is now a bittersweet record of “before”.
The most obvious example is the city itself. Two more years would pass before the wall came down. For now, it is still as much a character as seraphim Damiel and Cassiel (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander), a looming scar of graffiti and pain that blots out Potsdamer Platz. It gives Wenders’ Berlin the sense of a place at the edge of the world, dotted with grand, half-derelict nightclubs in which a ferocious Nick Cave sings “From Her to Eternity” and ragged circuses where children delight at trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin). So too the smitten Damiel, now intent on becoming human.
Timeless things — metaphysics, love, great cinema — now make a time capsule. The much-missed Peter Falk plays himself, in Germany for a film shoot, extolling the pleasures of coffee and cigarettes: another 20th-century moment. As Damiel and Cassiel listen in to the thoughts of massed Berliners — this being the lot of angels — those fragments grow into a lyrical symphony of memories and minutiae. Again: “before”.
In 2022, the poetry would be harder to buy now that social media has exposed the grim reality of our inner monologues. Here, that only adds to the melancholy. And if some restorations of classic films are mere spit and polish, this one is spectacular: a deepening and sharpening of existing beauty.
In cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema in the UK from June 24