Wings of Desire (1987)

Director: Wim Wenders

Starring: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Peter Falk

Awards: Cannes (Best Direction, 1987)

Wings of Desire is a moody piece, shot largely without a script in post Cold War Berlin. With sepia tones, Wender follows two emotionless angels, Damiel and Cassiel in their mission to observe human behaviour. Eventually Damiel tires of watching without experiencing, having also fallen in love with a human trapeze artist. After a chance meeting with an ex-angel turned human played by Peter Falk, he decides to make the transformation himself.

The film shifts to color at the point when he loses his immortality, ala Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946), creators of Black Narcissus. Damiel begins to experience the pain and pleasures of life and manages to unite with the trapeze artist he fell in in love with before.

The film is an interesting piece from a cinematography perspective, having several unique shots that stay in your mind. Namely the sequence following the angels as they walk through a library encountering dozens of other angels perched above the humans, watching without empathy or emotion. A soundtrack puntuated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds also stands out. The film’s message of hope and optimism is infectuous and told in lyrical and memorable way.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Paris, Texas (1984)

Das Experiment (2001)

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Starring: Moritz Bleibtreu

Based on the Stanford Prison Experiment and the book Black Box by Mario Giordano, Das Experiment follows the events of an experiment where 19 men are divided into prisoners and guards and tasked with role playing their mock occupations for two weeks.

At first the 19 strangers joke about their roles, playing hyperbolized stereotypes of how they imagine they should act. But when each realize the repercussions of their position and power they either possess or are denied, the experiement becomes something far more dangerous.

Similar events happened in the real life Stanford Prison Experiment, which was eventually cancelled after 6 days when the guards started torturing the test prisoners. Das Experiment asks, what happens if they didn’t stop? How bad can it get?

Answer: Pretty bad.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Downfall (2004), The Invasion (2007)

Insomnia (1997)

Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

Starring: Stellan Skarsgard

Having an obsession with film noir out of college, I immediately gravitated toward Insomina, when I heard the director’s aim was to turn the genre on its head. It was this visual style, using pervasive light in a disorienting and ubitiquitous manner, combined with the powerful performance by Stellan Skarsgard that cemented this film in my subconcious.

Being a pilot when I saw this film, I was all too familiar with the phenomena of insomnia, traveling through multiple time zones every day, never being able to convince your body and mind when night and day were falling. My travels also frequently took me to the Scandanavian countries, so I could relate to the way the constant sunlight wreaked havoc on the senses of the lead character in the film. The director magically captured this experience and combined it with a tense thriller in a completely unique way.

Unlike the remake by Christopher Nolan, the original’s protagonist is far less likable and in turn more watchable. The less sleep he gets, the deeper a hole he sinks into. Accidentally killing his partner while investigating a serial killer in the Norweigian Artic, detective Jonas Engstrom, decides to cover up his mistake by blaming the murder on the killer. But his plan quickly unravels with his psyche, the less sleep he gets, and the more crimes he commits in an attempt to assuage his ever increasing guilt.

Skarsgard’s best performance to date in my opinion, this relentlessly bright film is at the same time, one of the darkest I’ve ever seen.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Prozac Nation (2001)

Don’t get this mixed up with the American version, they’re as different as night and day…see what I did there?

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