[box cover]

Faraway, So Close!

Columbia TriStar Home Video

Starring Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander,
Horst Bucholz, Willem Dafoe, and Nastassia Kinski

Written by Richard Reitinger and Wim Wenders
Directed by Wim Wenders

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Out of a career filled with brilliant films, Wings of Desire is arguably Wim Wenders' masterpiece. The 1988 film — whose German title is Der Himmel Uber Berlin, which translates as The Heavens Over Berlin — is a beautiful, monochrome parable about the duality of East and West Berlin as embodied by the duality of the human spirit. In examining the chasm between the physical and the spiritual, Wenders also offered his hope that one day the rift in Germany itself could be healed.

Several years later, the Berlin Wall came down and the healing could begin. And in 1993 Wenders gave us Faraway, So Close! — not a sequel, he insisted, but a followup — which examines the way humanity has changed in the aftermath of the Cold War. And no matter what his insistance, Faraway is, indeed, a sequel. Where Wings was filmed in West Berlin, Faraway is filmed almost exclusively in the East with, essentially, the same cast of characters.

A moving film in its own right, Faraway, So Close! makes more sense to the viewer if they recall Wings of Desire. In Wings, the angel Damiel (Bruno Ganz) has become dissatisified with his position as an angel — a messenger of love whose sole purpose is observe humanity without really experiencing mortality, and to ferry the dying into the next world. He falls in love with Marion, a circus acrobat (Solveig Dommartin), "falls" to human status, and finds less-than-perfect fulfillment in his newly mortal state. He soon discovers that there are others like him (including Peter Falk — playing himself!) and learns that neither a completely spiritual nor a completely physical existance is satisfying. The film resonates with hope — hope that humans will heal themselves with love, and hope that the Wall would someday fall and unite a fractured Germany.

In Faraway, So Close!, we return to Berlin after the Wall has fallen. Damiel is enjoying his human life as a pizza chef, living with Marion and their multilingual daughter. When angel Cassiel (Otto Sander) — who is now pondering the same questions and yearning for the same understanding of humanity as Damiel did in Wings — saves a young girl's life in direct defiance of their heavenly edict of non-involvement, he too loses his armor, his angelic pony-tail and his invisibility. Cassiel has a hard time settling in to earthly residence, feeling sorry for himself and drinking heavily. After attending a Lou Reed concert and hearing Reed sing a song about being a good man and doing good things, Cassiel decides to "be a good man" — but mistakenly gets involved with a racketeer named Baker (Horst Bucholz) and discovers how easy it is to stumble into the dark.

Where Wings shimmered with the possibilities of a Wall-less future for Germany, Faraway shows us, with palpable regret, the disarray which actually came to pass. Wenders' post-Wall Berliners are free, yes, but the dream is less than perfect. Damiel enjoys running his own business, but must grease palms to stay open. A taxi driver says he doesn't drive in the East, not realizing that's exactly where he is because he can't make sense of the map. Bucholz's American gangster is the son of a Nazi officer who fled to America, now taking advantage of the free trade between East and West to run porn and guns which he keeps hidden in an old Nazi bunker hidden beneath the airport.

Meanwhile, the angels (including Nastassia Kinski, luminous as Raphaela) listen in on humans' thoughts and dreams. Mikhail Gorbachev — who devoted three hours to Wenders for his scene because he happened to be in town during filming — ponders a poem by Tyuchev and thinks to himself, "I'm sure that a secure world can't be built on blood, only on harmony. If we can only agree on this, we will solve the rest." Lou Reed sits in a hotel room, trying to remember a forgotten lyric as he plays a song from his 1973 "Berlin" album.

And a new presence among both angels and humans is Willem Dafoe, whose true purpose is undefined in the film — is he a demon, a dark angel, a representative of Berlin's new reality? Wenders gives us a few clues, first in the faceless pocket watch that Dafoe consults, then with the name he gives Cassiel: "Emit Flesti." As the dream of utopia has proven untenable, Time Itself has become a trickster, tripping up and manipulating both good and evil with an unseen hand — and no one is immune to its influence.

Faraway, So Close! is a greatly flawed film, never nearing the greatness of Wings of Desire, but it's a necessary companion piece nonetheless. And it's beautiful to look at — where Wings had the genius of Henri Alekan, Jurgen Jürges' photography is equally lovely — contrasting the blue-tinged monochrome viewpoint of the angels with the rich vibrancy of human's perception. Its poignancy is especially sharp since Wings had an unusually happy ending (happy for Wenders, anyway) and our return to the scene finds that the future didn't turn out so bright after all. As Cassiel says to Raphaela, "People haven't conquered the world, the world has conquered them." And while it may still be possible for love to heal all, it's obvious that we still have a long way to go until we reach that goal.

— Dawn Taylor

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