USA Release date: 6th May 1988
Watched on Sky+ Saturday 28th April 2012.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
This is another of those films that came up in conversation and I must admit I was intrigued by its premise. Two angels that walk unseen amongst the residents of Berlin listening to their thoughts, hopes, fears and occasionally lending a helping hand. My only concern was that the narrative may be a little weak, well; I’ll let you know my thoughts on that (and more) after this brief summary.
When Damiel and Cassiel come to Berlin, they go about their work as normal, occasionally reporting back to compare notes on what they’ve experienced. During one of these meetings Damiel hints that he’d like to become human and experience mortal life for himself. Nothing more is said about it for quite some time, the pair continues and we begin to focus in on three characters (amongst others); the actor Peter Falk; a trapeze artist, Marion and Homer, an aged poet. Damiel is most taken by Marion, her thoughts intrigue him. The actor has a very important role to play in this as well, but I had better not say how here. The poet has much to say about the past and the human condition. I guess I really cannot say any more without giving too much away and so I’ll stop now before the Spoiler Police strip me of my wings and make me mortal (again).
Beautifully shot in both colour and black & white, predominantly black & white it should be noted, but this makes the use of colour all the more prominent. The use of language was also quite striking, although mostly in German; I found that the use of both French and English throughout made for an interesting mix. All the performances were very good and so I’ll give honourable mentions to; Bruno Ganz as Damiel, Solveig Dommartin as Marion, Otto Sander as Cassiel, Curt Bois as Homer and Peter Falk as Der Filmstar.
I know this film may not be for everyone, it’s quite stark and the performances are quite downbeat, however, I did find it quite enthralling. There is a delightful twist near the end that I never would have guessed and it left me with a pretty good feeling. I can see why the critics liked it so much, it is very different to almost everything else I’ve seen and it certainly made for a refreshing change. As far as the narrative goes, well I need not have worried, it was a little slow, but it all tied up neatly in the end. Over all, if you’re a fan of art-house cinema then this is a must-see, if not, then I’d probably give it a miss, but over all, for me… Recommended.
My Score: 7.9/10
IMDb Score: 8.0/10 (based on 26,206 votes at the time of going to press).
MetaScore: 79/100: (Based on 9 critic reviews provided by Metacritic.com at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes ‘Tomatometer’ Score: 98/100 (based on 42 reviews counted at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes ‘Audience’ Score: 81/100 ‘want to see’ (based on 31,328 user ratings counted at the time of going to press).
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Damiel: It's great to live by the spirit, to testify day by day for eternity, only what's spiritual in people's minds. But sometimes I'm fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I'd like to feel a weight grow in me to end the infinity and to tie me to earth. I'd like, at each step, each gust of wind, to be able to say "Now." Now and now" and no longer "forever" and "for eternity." To sit at an empty place at a card table and be greeted, even by a nod. Every time we participated, it was a pretence. Wrestling with one, allowing a hip to be put out in pretence, catching a fish in pretence, in pretence sitting at tables, drinking and eating in pretence. Having lambs roasted and wine served in the tents out there in the desert, only in pretence. No, I don't have to beget a child or plant a tree but it would be rather nice coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe, to have a fever and blackended fingers from the newspaper, to be excited not only by the mind but, at last, by a meal, by the line of a neck by an ear. To lie! Through one's teeth. As you're walking, to feel your bones moving along. At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say "ah" and "oh" and "hey" instead of "yea" and "amen."
Cassiel: Yeah, to be able, once in a while, to enthuse for evil. To draw all the demons of the earth from passers-by and to chase them out into the world. To be a savage.
Damiel: Or at last to feel how it is to take off shoes under a table and wriggle your toes barefoot, like that.
Cassiel: Stay alone! Let things happen! Keep serious! We can only be savages in as much as we keep serious. Do no more than look! Assemble, testify, preserve! Remain spirit! Keep your distance. Keep your word.
Peter Falk: To smoke, and have coffee - and if you do it together, it's fantastic.
Homer, the aged poet: Tell me, muse, of the storyteller who has been thrust to the edge of the world, both an infant and an ancient, and through him reveal everyman. With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, bur rather sit apart. And one doesn't know anything about the other. I'm an old man with a broken voice, but the tale still rises from the depths, and the mouth, slightly opened, repeats it as clearly, as powerfully. A liturgy for which no one needs to be initiated to the meaning of words and sentences.
Damiel: [as Falk is led away] Wait! I want to know everything.
Peter Falk: You need to figure that out for yourself. That's the fun of it.
Marion: Now it's serious. At last it's becoming serious. So I've grown older. Was I the only one who wasn't serious? Is it our times that are not serious? I was never lonely neither when I was alone, nor with others. But I would have liked to be alone at last. Loneliness means I'm finally whole. Now I can say it as tonight, I'm at last alone. I must put an end to coincidence. The new moon of decision. I don't know if there's destiny but there's a decision. Decide! We are now the times. Not only the whole town - the whole world is taking part in our decision. We two are now more than us two. We incarnate something. We're representing the people now. And the whole place is full of those who are dreaming the same dream. We are deciding everyone's game. I am ready. Now it's your turn. You hold the game in your hand. Now or never. You need me. You will need me. There's no greater story than ours, that of man and woman. It will be a story of giants... invisible... transposable... a story of new ancestors. Look. My eyes. They are the picture of necessity, of the future of everyone in the place. Last night I dreamt of a stranger... of my man. Only with him could I be alone, open up to him, wholly open, wholly for him. Welcome him wholly into me. Surround him with the labyrinth of shared happiness. I know... it's you.