Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) is at its simplest level, a film set in Berlin where immortal angels coexist alongside humans, passively watching and comforting those who are distressed. However, through his use of the visuals in the film and more importantly his use of colour and lack of, Wender is able to communicate his ideas about the political trauma caused by the war that was still present in the late 1980s.
The attached clip takes place towards the end of the film where Damiel decides to shed his immortality and existence as an angel to experience life as a human. As soon as he is reborn, he wakes up in West Berlin and as an audience we are immediately struck by the transition from black and white to colour as we can see the stylistic and metaphorical difference between either side of the wall. The colours of the graffiti on the wall and the red of the blood in his hand show the vividness of life as a human on the west side of the wall in comparison to the East side. In doing so, Wenders is able to clearly show the political division and separation between the East and the West when he shows Damiel being ‘born’ in the West. Wenders chose to showcase this rebirth in such a manner to show that the West was more human and natural compared to the oppressive nature of the black and white East Side. Wenders said himself that “no other city is to such an extent a symbol, a place of survival. It is a site more than a city” (Paneth, 1988, p. 2) showing that he feels that the conditions of the East side were hostile compared to that of the West.
Wenders also uses the sites of Berlin seen in the movie to acknowledge the history of the city to show the effect it has on late 1980s society;
The library, the war monument, the shots of bombed-out buildings, Homer’s ruminations on the Potsdamer Platz, and the clips of documentary World War II footage all point to Wenders’s concern with troubling memories and the weight of the past. (Caldwell & Rea, 1991, p.49)
If we also consider that angels are classically those who are dead and are in the afterlife we can also connote that Wenders has done this to show that the actions of those in the War still live on even 40 years after the war and that they still continued to shape society.
Through the sites of the film and his switching between colour and black and white, Wenders is able to create strong feelings of division and separation in a society still injured by its past, which heavily echoes the feelings of post war Germany showcasing the fact that this is focused on Germany and it’s history.
Caldwell, D., & Rea, P. (1991). Handke’s and Wenders’s Wings of Desire: Transcending Postmodernism. The German Quarterly,64(1), 46-54. doi:10.2307/407304
Paneth, I. (1988). Wim and His Wings. Film Quarterly, 42(1), 2-8. doi:10.2307/1212430