The Flutter of History

If any European director has succeeded Ingmar Bergman as the master of deeply philosophical and symbolistic films, it is surely Wim Wenders. Like Bergman, Wenders deals in stark and poignant images of the human condition, but in Wenders’ work, compassion and solidarity triumph over existential angst.

Wenders’ early films were set in the urban wastelands of post-industrial Germany (Alice in the City, 1974). He then switched to an American landscape and is most likely best known to U.S. audiences for Paris, Texas (1984), an empathetic portrait of working-class outcasts looking for love across vast, lonely stretches of the Southwest. More recently he has returned home to Berlin in a remarkable diptych, Wings of Desire (1987) and its companion piece Faraway So Close (1993).

It is our conviction that Wings of Desire is a truly great film; it’s one of our all-time favorites. The recent release of Faraway So Close has deepened our intrigue with Wenders’ evolving vision. For in this duet of films, Wenders has added a stunning new element to his trademark portraits of ordinary people who struggle to retain some humanity amidst alienation and life’s disappointments.

These two films introduce and share an extraordinary set of characters. Dressed in Euro-chic black overcoats, these characters omnipresently attend embattled and beleaguered urban dwellers. They listen to the most inward human thoughts, offering silent touches of hope, but are powerless to intervene in our anguish. These compassionate but constrained beings—recognized by children but invisible to adults—are angels.

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Sojourners Magazine July 1994
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