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DVD Review: Wings Of Desire (Criterion Collection)

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Wings Of Desire is not the sort of film that one can easily describe in mere words. It is a cinematic masterpiece that must be seen in order for any kind of explanation to present itself — and even, then one constantly finds his or herself at a loss for the appropriate adjectives.

The brainchild of German auteur Wim Wenders, 1987’s Wings Of Desire takes us to a different plane of existence — one that is inhabited by angels. Unlike the heavenly, blonde-haired and haloed cherub creatures depicted in such works as The Bible, these angels see the world entirely in black and white. They sport ponytails and wear long dark trench coats. They have monitored the history of the Earth since its creation, and delight in taking notes on the more “philosophical” moments we human beings express in our thoughts and actions. They are not here to guide us in any way (although they do possess moderate powers of persuasion, particularly when some old soul is ready to call it a life) — they are only there to observe.

Alas, I feel even that description makes it sound like these angels are creepy German stalkers. Such is not the case. Oh, and if you’ve found yourself thinking “Hey, this sounds like City Of Angels with Nicolas Cage!,” then you really need to get out more. You also need to do your foreign film homework: City Of Angels is merely just a glitzy Hollywood bastardization of Wings Of Desire. But I digress.

After countless centuries of watching, one Berlin-based angel, Damiel (played by the great Bruno Ganz), begins to wonder what it must be like to be human. He finds himself strangely transfixed with a trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin, who would later collaborate with Wenders on his much more ambitious Until The End Of The World), a fascination that has him ready to take the plunge into the human world.

Meanwhile, Damiel’s colleague Cassiel (Otto Sander) roams Berlin, listening to the words of wisdom from an elderly gent named Homer (Curt Bois). American actor Peter Falk gives one of his most memorable performances playing himself, and Aussie group Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds also make a couple of appearances, contributing to the film’s impressive soundtrack in the process.

Previously issued on DVD by MGM, Wings Of Desire gets a much-needed release by the folks at the Criterion Collection on both Blu-ray and DVD. The new high-def transfer presents the movie in an anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen, with a much clearer and crisper presentation all-around. The sound has also received an upgrade, with this Criterion release offering a superb 5.1 mix. Since the dialogue of the movie is multi-lingual (portions of the film are in French, German, and English), the film is queued to play with an English subtitle track.

While it’s unfortunate that Wenders’ underappreciated follow-up, Faraway, So Close! will probably never get the Criterion treatment it deserves, we can all sit back and enjoy this release of Wings Of Desire, which boasts a second disc full of special features in addition to an audio commentary for the main film. Both the commentary from Disc 1 and The Angels Among Us documentary and deleted scenes/outtakes from Disc 2 have been carried over from the 2003 MGM DVD.

Disc 2’s original material includes a handful of oddities — oddities because they rarely touch upon Wings Of Desire itself, but are interesting in their own right nonetheless. First up is “Wim Wenders Berlin Jan. 87,” a clip from a French TV program that looks at director Wenders making a movie-within-a-movie featured in the film. Next up is an “Interview With Director Of Photography Henri Alekan” taken from 1985. Two more excerpts, one from another French TV special (Alekan La Lumière, from 1988) and a look at Wings Of Desire’s co-star, Curt Bois (Remembrance, made by Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander in 1982) round out the “live” extras.

Lastly, Criterion’s second disc includes a photo gallery, with notes, by art directors Heidi and Toni Lüdi. Both the DVD and Blu-ray boast the same special features (the latter release’s bonus materials are presented in High-Def) and also include a 28-page booklet with contributions from novelist/playwright Peter Handke (who co-wrote the film), writer Michael Atkinson, and Wim Wenders himself. The booklet also contains notes on the video transfer and production of the Criterion release.

Highly recommended. A must have, in fact.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.