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Haunting, evocative drama is one-of-a-kind 4.5 Stars

Wim Wenders’ haunting, evocative, poignant, and soulful Wings of Desire is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one of those films that stays with you long after you’ve watched its last frame.

Wings of Desire (1987)
Released: 06 May 1988
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 128 min
Director: Wim Wenders
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Cast: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander
Writer(s): Wim Wenders, Peter Handke, Richard Reitinger
Plot: An angel tires of his purely ethereal life of merely overseeing the human activity of Berlin's residents, and longs for the tangible joys of physical existence when he falls in love with a mortal.
IMDB rating: 8.0
MetaScore: 79

Disc Information
Studio: Criterion
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 7 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 05/02/2023
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 4.5/5

Wim Wenders’ haunting, evocative, poignant, and soulful Wings of Desire is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With a thin thread of a story but image after image of empathetic communication, Wings of Desire is one of those films that stays with you long after you’ve watched its last frame. If the film’s last quarter hour doesn’t quite live up to all that has gone before, it’s still one of cinema’s great life experiences, a movie full of sounds and images that burn themselves into one’s very soul.

Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) are two angels who have been on Earth for eternity, and they find themselves in Berlin wandering the city, reading thoughts, soothing the distressed wherever possible, easing the dying into the afterlife, and generally observing a mankind that seems oddly melancholy. Damiel becomes particularly fascinated by trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin); in fact, he’s so enraptured by her high flying act that he longs to become human, not only to join her but also to experience for the first time the sounds, smells, flavors, and sensations of human existence. Such a fall is possible, and he becomes more convinced of its sound logic when he comes across Peter Falk (as himself) shooting a movie in Berlin who admits he himself is a fallen angel who recommends humanity wholeheartedly.

The film’s first eighty minutes or so are as poetic and ethereal an examination of the human condition from an objective point of view than just about any film has ever been able to convey. Whether in the bright and bustling city library, the subways and buses traversing the city, the noisy punk nightclubs in the evening, an airplane over the city, or the movie set where a film is being shot about concentration camps during World War II, the script simply lets the angels listen nonjudgmentally as the men, women, and children play out their lives: some thinking serious cosmic thoughts about the nature of good and evil; others thinking about food or work schedules. Some are dying or contemplate suicide (one of the film’s most crushing images is Cassiel attempting to soothe the troubled mind of a desperate man intent on jumping from a building under construction and his reaction to the man’s decision). But the tone of the film is definitely on the down side; there seem to be problems almost everywhere one turns. With everything from the angels’ point of view being seen in black and white (better to get to the true essence of humanity without the distraction of pretty color), the somber, sober worldview is even more emphasized. After Damiel’s fall from grace, the movie shifts to color (Wenders and director of photography Henri Alekan handle the transitions with awesome grace and fluidity, and it isn’t a problem when we momentarily return to black and white late in the film for a moment or two) as he experiences a bloody injury, rainbows of colors, and taste sensations for the first time. The inevitable reunion with his soul mate is, of course, rather telegraphed and anticlimactic and takes too long to happen, but everything to that point remains spellbinding.

With minimal angelic dialog and using more body language and facial expressions than words to evoke an emotional response in the viewer, Bruno Ganz and especially Otto Sander give superb performances. As the ravishing trapeze artist, Solveig Dommartin does all her own stunts and is astoundingly good. She has some trouble traversing the wordy, unnecessarily literal paean to soul mates finding one another that closes the film (Ganz has a counterpoint monologue that’s less problematic, all scripted by director Wenders and Peter Handke), but there’s no denying that she’s entirely worthy of turning many an angel’s head. Peter Falk has a good time playing himself, complaining about a hat he has been given to wear by the costumer, talking to angels he can’t see but senses are present, and generally twinkling in the unique style he’s always possessed. Curt Bois as an elderly man who struggles to survive but doggedly plugs away at living has a memorable couple of scenes.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is framed at 1.66:1 and is presented in 2160p using the HEVC codec. The black and white photography that graces much of the film is exquisite for the most part with splendid detail, contrast that seems perfectly realized, and a grayscale that mesmerizes. The minor flickering observed in the DVD and Blu-ray releases doesn’t seem to be present here, and the grain structure seems more consistent this time around in UHD (there is no HDR enhancement), though the color sequences which feature rich hues still occasionally seem slightly less sharp than the black and white scenes. The color values look wonderful in ultra high definition and seem closer in quality to those vivacious black and white images than in the lower resolution disc releases. There is also some inserted war footage in black and white and some home movie-looking color footage that is in very poor shape and matches coarsely with the rest of the imagery. The pale white subtitles are better resolved in UHD, but there is still that one bit of hair that must have been a part of the original photography and has not been digitally removed. The film has been divided into 19 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix (modified with the director’s supervision and consent from the original Dolby stereo sound masters) certainly doesn’t have the spread of a more modern audio design, but the hypnotic music and voices make a very appealing soundtrack for this other-worldly tale. Though the envelopment is surprisingly effective at times, the sound mix lacks only the spread of other ambient sounds to the rears to offer a richer, more robust sound experience. This lossless encode is likely the best it’s ever going to sound.

Special Features: 5/5

The UHD disc contains only the audio commentary. The Blu-ray disc in the package contains this and all of the other bonus materials.

Audio Commentary: edited together from over six hours of interviews with director Wim Wenders and co-star Peter Falk, it’s part running commentary and part conversational interview as the two men discuss all aspects of putting the film together, often flying by the seat of their pants.

The Angels Among Us (43:09, SD): a 2003 documentary on the making of the film dealing with everything from casting and the piecemeal script through the photography and the recording of the music.

Cinéma Cinémas (9:24, SD): an excerpt from a French television series showing Wenders at work on the film before its release.

Deleted Scenes (32:13, SD) nine deleted scenes which feature a commentary by director Wim Wenders which cannot be turned off (the audio portions of some of the clips are missing).

Outtakes (6:50, HD): almost 7 minutes of outtakes which feature just a music track and no vocals.

Art Gallery: step-through gallery features stills from the movie, sketches of wardrobe and camera angles, text pages describing upcoming photos, and some behind-the-scenes shots.

Alekan ’85 (10:16, SD): a series of interviews with cinematographer Henri Alekan by documentarian André Bonzel which were being shot for a film on the man which was never finished.

Alekan la lumiere (27:11, SD): features director Wim Wenders and cinematographer Henri Alekan discussing the use of lighting to achieve various effects during shooting.

Remembrance (29:42, SD): is a 1982 tribute to comedian Curt Bois as the two stars of Wings of Desire Otto Sander and Bruno Ganz ask the veteran actor questions about his career and his method of performing.

Trailers (HD/SD): German theatrical trailer (2:11), Wenders retrospective promotional trailer (2:05)

Thirty Page Booklet: features cast and crew lists, a generous selection of black and white and color stills, a wonderful essay on the movie by film critic Michael Atkinson, excerpts from the first draft treatment of the story ideas for the film by director/co-writer Wim Wenders, and co-writer Peter Handke’s haunting “Song of Childhood” which opens the film.

Overall: 4.5/5

A real art house classic of world cinema makes an auspicious ultra high definition debut in the Criterion Collection with Wim Wenders’ haunting Wings of Desire. A great high definition audio and ultra high definition video encode and a rich selection of bonus features make this disc one that rates the highest recommendation.

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Published by

Matt Hough


View thread (2 replies)


Senior HTF Member
Mar 29, 2020
Hamster Shire
Real Name
Good review, Matt. I especially liked the comment, "With minimal angelic dialog and using more body language and facial expressions than words to evoke an emotional response in the viewer, Bruno Ganz and especially Otto Sander give superb performances." Otto Sander has one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen, even moreso in this film's sequel, In weiter Ferne, so nah! [Faraway, So Close!], in which Cassiel takes his turn in the lead.

I'm assuming that Criterion used the same master that Curzon used for the British release (which I have) but I'll be interested if anyone has compared the two. I'll have to compare the extras to see if it's worth picking up the Criterion as well.
Last edited:

Noel Aguirre

Nov 28, 2011
New York City
Real Name
I like that some of these art house films aren’t adding HDR to their 4K releases to maintain an accurate look as to what it looked like when released. The Apartment is another example. Sometimes I wish I could simply turn HDR off like you could with Dolby in the old audio cassette days.
Another great review Matt!