+++ Opinion +++
There are many complaints about the fact that local cinema audiences don’t appreciate German films, preferring instead to look towards Hollywood. This is often described as a recent development. This phenomenon has existed for a long time. Hardly any example of this is as sad as the comparison between the 5-star masterpiece of a German director legend and its passable, but not nearly as magical remake:
In 1987, Wim Wenders’ intoxicating, sensuous and dreamlike masterpiece “Der Himmel über Berlin” attracted just over 911,000 people to German cinemas. And that despite the guest appearance of the “Columbo” actor Peter Falk, who was already extremely popular in Germany at the time. In 1998, however, the US remake “City of Angels” with Nicolas Cage reached over 2.5 million film fans.
This is still making waves today: although “Der Himmel über Berlin” is respected more, and rightly so by the film-loving audience as must see is true, “City of Angels” is still the film better known to the general public. Anyone who wants to catch up on Wenders’ beautiful classic or see it again can do so tonight on free TV: The NDR shows “The sky over Berlin” on September 12, 2022 from 11.45 p.m.
If you missed the broadcast, “Der Himmel über Berlin” is also available from various streaming providers. With a subscription, you can currently watch Wim Wenders’ masterpiece on the Prime Video channel ARTHAUS+, which you can test free of charge for seven days:
» “The sky over Berlin” on Amazon Prime Video (via ARTHAUS+)*
The angel Damiel (Bruno Ganz) roams through divided Berlin together with his friend Cassiel (Otto Sander) and listens inquisitively to the conversations of the people who cannot see him. Damiel’s curiosity about the thoughts and feelings of people on Earth grows – and reaches unimagined heights when he falls in love with the acrobat Marion (Solveig Dommartin). So he decides to exchange his immortality for an earthly existence in order to finally experience passion and longing, but also grief and pain, firsthand. In his new, more intense existence, he gets advice from a movie star (Peter Falk)…
Cinema audiences react differently not only to German and US films. A rule of thumb, somewhere between observation and cliché, is that tragic films are less well received than more positive stories. In addition to the obvious blockbuster exceptions that have made friction with negative endings, the double “City of Angels” and “The Sky over Berlin” also proves that the devastating story sometimes sells better.
Because Moonlight Mile director Brad Silberling uses tragic twists and turns to dramatize the story and force a more ordinary structure in his remake relocated to Los Angeles. Wenders’ original, on the other hand, is much warmer, more positive and more beautiful, despite the presence of dark sides. But since Wenders’ story is also less conventionally structured, it is prematurely labeled as less suitable for the masses. At the same time, “Der Himmel über Berlin” is a very accessible film – you just have to get involved with its ambling narrative form.
Everyone who succeeds in this will a piece of poetry that uses the strengths of the medium of film gift that appreciates life in all its beauties and downsides. It’s not the kind of bulky poem that teachers love to taunt school classes with. It’s the kind of poem that speaks for itself and is touched by how intuitively it finds images for feelings and thoughts that until now have been floating around in the back of one’s own head.
Wenders and his co-authors Peter Handke and Richard Reitinger proceed calmly and thoughtfully without becoming sluggish and cerebral: They invite us to stroll through a divided Berlin with the angels. We capture inspirational conversations, everyday encounters and excerpts from potentially larger stories, as if this were a road movie that is confined to Berlin and enjoys a leisurely stroll.
The variety of moods that characterize the human hustle and bustle there is made clear by the background music of “Der Himmel über Berlin”, because in addition to the poetic, sometimes lively score by Jürgen Knieper, you can also hear the smoky rock of a Nick Cave!
The Angel’s Journey, in which a gentle, longing, strong-character Bruno Ganz takes us by the hand, is illustrated by intoxicating images by cameraman Henri Alekan: “The sky over Berlin” shows how lively monochrome images can be, how thin the dividing line between sadness and dream world is at times. The angels can decide among themselves whether the statement “Which German city could be a better setting for this than Berlin?” is a side swipe or a bow.
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