An English translation ruins the incantatory, lullaby quality of Bruno Ganz’s German introduction, but here it is anyway (in part): “When this child was a child, it didn’t know it was a child. Everything was full of life, and all life was one.” More than two decades later, when the moody, black-and-white Wings of Desire seems like a strong candidate for the most pretentious movie ever, it pulls on the nostalgic heartstrings of this once-teenage outsider.
Wim Wenders’s 1987 angels-over-Berlin fantasy was a gateway drug to the pleasures of art cinema, a gorgeous reverie and a pose, too. As a proud viewer of nonmainstream tastes, you swaddled yourself in the circuslike atmosphere of bruised romance, lapped up Ganz’s bescarved compassion, and nodded to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds wailing “From Her to Eternity” in an bercool club. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t connect emotionally. But so much of it now feels like a time capsule, capturing the moment when owning a bleak soundtrack stood you apart from Dirty Dancing fans.
Criterion’s two-disc package meets its usual excellent standard; it includes a breathtaking transfer of Henri Alekan’s cinematography, a chatty commentary with Wenders and the ever-entertaining Peter Falk, and several on-set excerpts. Some testimony to the generational impact of the film would have been welcome. If you hung around the art house, you’d remember.—Joshua Rothkopf
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