Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are two angels, tasked with watching over the people of West Berlin. They walk through the city and try their best to bring comfort, relief and general goodness, but aren’t always successful. Damiel increasingly feels that he doesn’t want to do it anymore in any case and when he sees Marion (Solveig Dommartin), the trapeze artist of a struggling circus, his attraction to her is the final push he needs to make it official: he wants to live as a human with all the emotion that brings with it and that are not accessible to him now.
Der Himmel über Berlin was recently restaurated and got to tour cinemas again. Given that the best thing about it is the spectacular cinematography, it was very nice to be able to see it on the big screen. Other than that, it didn’t entirely work for me, but it’s definitely interesting.
Having seen City of Angels many years ago, it is fascinating to me how this film could be the basis for the Hollywood version. They don’t have very much in common, if you ask me, apart from the general idea that an angel wants to live as a human because he falls in love with a woman. But be that as it may. Der Himmel über Berlin is certainly the more artistic film, it attempts to be more than a romance and those attempts don’t always work out.
The script was a little exhausting – as Handke’s writing so often is. He does have a way with words and finds beautiful expressions, but at the same time, his writing is always so smug, so completely self-satisfied that it quickly gets on my nerves. In this film, Bruno Ganz was the biggest victim of that: he gives a good performance, but a certain smugness is behind everything he says – a smugness that neither fits the character nor the emotions the film wants to get at.
This also means that the film starts to drag around the middle a little, especially when it starts to be more about Marion – the only female character of note in the film and a woefully underdeveloped one at that.
The film has two big elements in its corner: the first is Peter Falk who gives a great performance in an absolutely brilliant role. And the second is the really fantastic cinematography that captures both a sense of realism and an otherworldliness that fits the story very well – and looks beautiful while it’s at it.
The film probably won’t become a favorite of mine, but I am glad that I got to see it.
Summarizing: Worth seeing at least once.