Sunday, 1 September 2013

In weiter Ferne, so nah (4½ Stars)

This film was released with English subtitles as "Faraway, so close", the literal translation of the German title, but I prefer to call it "City of Angels 2". To explain what I mean: in 1987 the German director Wim Wenders made a film called "Der Himmel über Berlin", in English "The Sky over Berlin", about angels who watch over people in the city and subtly influence their lives without directly intervening. This film was remade in Hollywood as "City of Angels", with the story relocated to Los Angeles. This was a case where the Hollywood remake was successful, even though a lot of the poignancy of the original was lost by not setting it in Berlin. It was an important part of the film that the angels only saw one city, so they walked through the Wall as if it weren't there. After the reunification of Berlin Wim Wenders decided to make a sequel in the newly reunited city. That's why I call it "City of Angels 2".

At the end of the first film Damiel (called Seth in the remake) fell to Earth to find love, leaving his best friend Cassiel behind. The second film begins with Cassiel complaining that even though he can hear the thoughts of humans he doesn't understand them. Damiel now owns a pizzeria in Berlin. After some hesitation Cassiel falls to Earth in order to save the life of a young girl who falls off a balcony. First he goes to Damiel for assistance, but he is seduced by a mysterious being, Emil Flesti, who walks between angels and humans. Is he the Devil? Probably. In his commentary the director calls him a personification of time, but he isn't as neutral as this concept would suggest. Emil has the goal of destroying fallen angels. After following Emil's temptation to take up gambling and drinking, Cassiel ends up on the streets begging. But this only lasts a short while, until he gets a job working for a gangster who sells weapons and illegal pornography.

This film features many of the characters from the first film, but it has a very different style. It's darker than the first film. There are more action sequences. But it also deals with deep moral issues. Damiel fell to Earth because of love, which is probably why Emil has no hold over him. Cassiel's main reason for falling to Earth is curiosity. Once on Earth he wants to make something of his life. His main positive influence is from listening to a song by Lou Reed, "Why can't I be good", which Lou wrote for the film.

Lou Reed, live in 1992

Why can't I be good?

Why can't I be good?
Why can't I act like a man?
Why can't I be good
And do what other men can?
Why can't I be good,
Make something of this life?
If I can't be a God
Let me be more than a wife.

Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?

I don't want to be weak,
I want to be strong,
Not a fat happy weakling
With two useless arms,
A mouth that keeps moving
With nothing to say,
An eternal baby
Who never moved away.

Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?

I'd like to look in the mirror
With a feeling of pride,
Instead of seeing a reflection
Of failure and crime.
I don't want to turn away
To make sure I cannot see,
I don't want to hold my ears
When I think about me.

Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?

I want to be like the wind
When it uproots a tree,
Carries it across an ocean
To plant in a valley.
I want to be like the sun
That makes it flourish and grow.
I don't want to be
What I am anymore.

Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?

I was thinking of some kind of whacked out syncopation
That would help improve this song,
Some knock 'em down rhythm
That would help it move along,
Some rhyme of pure perfection,
A beat so hard and strong.
If I can't get it right this time,
Will a next time come along?

Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?
Why can't I be good?

Curt Bois as Homer, with the angel Cassiel
One person who doesn't return in this film is the poet Homer, played by Curt Bois. Curt died in 1991, a year before the second film was made. Wim Wenders dedicated the film to him. Rest in peace.

Solveig Dommartin
16 May 1961 – 11 January 2007
Solveig Dommartin, the beautiful woman with the uncontrollable hair, plays the trapeze artist Marion in both films. She died much too young. Although she's best known for the two angels films, I consider her best performance to have been in the epic end-time film "Until the end of the world", which she co-wrote with Wim Wenders.

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